A tale of Tigers Tribals and Tourism – 2021
Tigers Tribals and Tourism – 2021: My sojourn with wildlife is now over three decades. From love at first sight to working until my last breath the journey has been frustrating, yet fulfilling, incomplete, yet inspiring. I wish to see tigers surviving, and thriving beyond my life. The journey of my affection for tigers took root when I realized the importance of Tigers, Tribals, and Tourism. These three ‘T’s’ can be called as the Golden Triangle, apart, yet connected, and incomplete without each other.
Tigers and Tribals do not live in fear but in respect, and admiration of each other. They have co-existed eternally and peacefully. These aboriginals are pioneers in the wilderness compared to the civilized city dwellers. Their capacity for toil, physical and mental endurance, and for malaria is unparalleled.
Few years back during one of my visit to a local village next to Dudhwa National Park, I interacted with a farmer on the outskirts of the park. It was close to sunset and after talking to him for a while he politely requested that he must return home before dark and so should we. I asked him why, he replied that post sunset it is time for the tigers to roam so humans must leave the area, and get back to their shelters. Didn’t he feel scared, I asked? On the contrary, he said that the tigers visiting his farms is beneficial for him, as tigers pugmarks, the scents he leaves, or an occasional kill of the herbivores in or near the farms dissuades the deer’s and wild boars to come to the farms and destroy his crops when they are ready for harvest. In addition, tigers killing the prey animals in their farm helps keeping the population of ungulates under control, thus benefitting the local farmers, the forest and the tribals.
My heart was overjoyed to see this respect for the tigers amongst the locals of the area. In addition, this goes for all the tribals, be it the Tharus and Gujjars of the Terai, the Baigas, Korkus and Gonds of central India, or Mishmis and Nagas in the North East.
There have been several changes over the past few decades. Due to the population explosion the land holding has reduced considerably with every passing generation due to division of land among children of the farmers. Therefore, the output per farmer has reduced by a big margin, thus increasing his dependence on the forest in absence of any other local economy.
The crunch of this was felt in the early part of this century. The local community became dependent on the forests for many of their daily needs like wood, bamboo, roots, medicinal herbs, and occasional bush meat. There was no commercialization of the forestry residues but the locals were putting their lives at risk for subsistence. What would keep them away from forests? Simple, some economy that could provide their daily needs.
Tigers Tribals and Tourism – 2021: Need of the Hour
It was here that I felt the importance of responsible tourism to save tigers and tribals. Tourism begets instant cash flow in the area. The local guides, drivers, vendors, and local staff in the hotels benefit from tourism of which tiger is the cornerstone. Tiger sightings in India have improved over the last two decades due to various conservation processes implemented by the government, initiatives by the non-profit organizations and some dedicated individuals.
Few years back, tourism was seen as a disturbance to tigers, and tribals. There were also studies conducted to see the negative impact of tourism on tigers. I agree that not every stake holder involved in tourism is sensitive to the fact that tourism is a double-edged sword. If done right it is an important cog in the wheel of conservation. If gone wrong it ends up disturbing the entire eco-system and defying the purpose for which it was introduced, i.e. education, awareness, and generation of revenue for conservation.
When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns were put in place the absence of money nearly starved the local community, which by now had become increasingly dependent on tourism. It was now that some states realized the importance of tourism as a conservation tool to save tigers and tribals. Thus, it was decided to open up some areas of the national parks even in the monsoon times.
Tigers Tribals and Tourism – 2021: Current Scenario
Today, majority of tourism seems to be for entertainment purpose. Most of the national parks have become outing points for staycations due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, one cannot overlook the generation of tremendous amount of money for the local economy.
However, important tourism becomes in the overall landscape one thing that should not escape the minds of the people involved in running tourism is that, tourism is for the tigers, but tigers are not for tourism. Hence, tourism needs to learn from the bond that tigers and tribals share and contribute to that rather disturb it.
Almost all the national parks today have set guidelines, policies, dos and don’ts’s for all tourism stake holders, be it the resorts, transporters, guides, drivers, and tour operators. It is imperative that the set guidelines are respected for the survival of the tiger, tribals and tourism.