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                             are they compatible?

Article by Julian Matthews - Founder of Toft for Tigers

To advocate, plan, support and fund the protection, conservation and rewilding of natural wilderness and their wild inhabitants, especially tiger habitat, through the clever and wise use of nature tourism, using better visitor guidance, more community involvement, targeted green investment and enhanced governance and monitoring. 
To advance the welfare of wild animals threatened with extinction through the loss or degradation of their wild habitats, and to promote the protection, expansion and improvement of those habitats

The basic premise of the TOFTigers campaign is that responsible well managed nature and safari tourism into the Indian subcontinent finest wildernesses and Tiger reserves is the very best way to save their forests, their iconic tigers and their extraordinary biodiversity.

For instance, of today’s 200 to 300 thousand square kms of remaining Indian forest habitat, only 39,000 square kms is under any serious protection in one of 617 Protected Areas. The last Tiger census in 2014, by the Indian Government calculated that these forests contain about 2200 Royal Bengal tigers. However, one of India’s leading scientists, Dr Ullas Karanth, working for WCS, believes at densities of 5 to 10 tigers per 100 square kilometres there is, even today, room for 15,000 to 30,000 tigers – but only of course if the unprotected forests of India got the same protection as today’s protected areas.

Sadly these remaining unloved forests are most often in poor health, being denuded for firewood and forest produce, over grazed by cattle and goats, cut down for farmlands, run through with roads, canals and highways, and assailed by a population of 1.3 billion people. Regarded as wastelands by politicians and locals alike these forests are seemingly without economic or even ecological value, yet they still supply vital services to humanity, day in day out, year in year out, unseen, uncosted and uncared for. Yet invisibly they provide invaluable and critically undervalued ‘ecological services’ in fresh water, food, medicines and carbon sinks to name just a few of the 17 ecosystem services they provide. To put these figures in perspective a recent report by the Indian Government shows the figures here – highlighting the extraordinary value that healthy reserves have to humanity.

Picture credit: Himanshu Badge

As has been shown in research the world over, nature tourism and its services can provide the economic imperative and a very tangible reason for protecting forest and wildlife including tigers, and if we protect tigers, as an iconic ‘must see’ predator, we also protect the landscapes and habitats that they exist on, and in so doing the services that forests, wildlands and biodiversity provides.

A new study in February 2015 by WWF US, Princeton and Cambridge Universities, has gauged the economic impact of visit to protected areas globally, and the figures are astounding. Covering over 92,000 parks across the world, it is estimated that they generate over US$600 billion per annum in revenue from visitors - yet only US$10 billion a year is invested in them by governments annually, a wholly unacceptable figure to keep our planet’s natural ecological services in working order.

The great wake up call

Even setting aside the proven health, psychological, physical and spiritual benefits that wilderness provides humanity, most governments are cutting budgets across the world to protect these areas. The study concluded that the money invested in conserving wild areas is grossly insufficient, and by underinvesting in conservation, we take on a great economic risk. On the other hand increasing investment in protected area maintenance and expansion, would yield significant economic returns.

Below are the levels of investment being thrown at protection of forest and wildlands in India. It’s peanuts - so little infact that most parks cannot pay their own protection staff or carry out any of the needs for conservation relying on other NGO’s, separate funds and budgets to make good the deficit if they are lucky. In a number of cases, visitor park revenues are adding to their coffers, sometimes doubling or tripling the yearly budgets that Field officers are given to run the parks and pay for Forest guard salaries, equipment and patrolling, ensuring that what you see today – others can see, enjoy and pay for tomorrow.

TOFT Central Government Funding Total Government Funding

Nature tourism, is the only industry at present that is non extractive of its habitat and wants to see healthy untouched habitat and biodiversity in all its glory. Nature travellers is prepared to happily pay for standing forests over felled forests, live animals instead of dead one, natural landscapes over cultivated ones.

TOFTigers calculated in 2010 that a single well known tigress in Ranthambhore Tiger reserve had earnt revenues of over US$103 million (GB£65million) in the first decade of her life, through park, camera and film fees for park authorities, as well as lodging and services fees for businesses and taxes for state governments. She also effectively employed over 3000 people, all living within sight of the park boundaries. This is one hell of a valuable tigress – but today there are 47 tiger reserves, so they too can all become ‘rural economic hubs’ that ensure conservation and protection over degradation and destruction. It’s a win: win partnership and is ably highlighted by the African conservation mantra - 'If it pays, its stays'.

The chart below highlights an interesting conundrum. Corbett Tiger reserve has been highlighted in reports as a ‘worse case’ scenario for tourism, with over 200 hotels, resorts and lodges, the blocking, by new buildings and fences, of critical wildlife corridors and water sources, poor tourism behaviour and practices and a host of other tourism evils, yet it also has the highest density of Tigers in India’s tiger parks. There is some causal link here, between protection and tourism, even if we don’t like all of it! (see chart below). Furthermore the Wildlife Institute’s own research in Pench in 2012, proved that tiger movements were not affected by tourism pressures.(see link to research below). The reality is most tigers are far more affected by human disturbance in the forms of labourers on foot tree felling, poaching incidents, forest produce extraction like Tendu leaves and Mahua fruit that often involves fire, and of course cattle grazing than they are by visitors travelling along a park’s few roads looking for them a few hours a day, and with whom they have become utterly accustomed and habituated. There is much empirical evidence to suggest that tigers in tourism zones live longer than those outside such zones, where human disturbance and threats are much greater. In Rwanda, Mountain Gorilla growth is better in habituated family groups than non-habituated groups for instance, because of constant vigilance and extreme conservation measures (see below) that habituation can ensure.

India’s and Nepal’s booming nature tourism industry, over 4 million visitors per year, is already saving tigers and habitat – but more by default than by good planning, and TOFTigers real concern is that too little time and effort is being invested in land use planning, tourism planning and monitoring to ensure a wildlife destination gets the most benefits from nature tourism enterprises; ensuring responsible, well planned and sustainable formats of nature, safari and adventure tourism are achieved

Copyright Julian Matthews .   Seen here, centre.

There is hope. TOFTigers has been campaigning for years to have public and private investment in wilderness, much like other parts of the world, in the forms of private conservancies and community sanctuaries, ensuring forest patches, corridors and wastelands can be restored by passionate individuals, communities, NGO’s or wealthy philanthropists. In November 2015 the Maharashtra Government made it legal to set up nature conservancies on private land with farmers’ lands on leaseholds, ensuring a greater opportunity for village communities to be beneficiaries in conservation and tourism. Madhya Pradesh is considering leasing forest landscapes to private entrepreneurs to restore and rewild. These may well be the start of something special that will again value nature and wilderness and supply net benefit to both its wildlife inhabitants and its human stakeholders.

This is where TOFTigers aims to try and change how wildlife tourism is derived and operated across the subcontinent, and why your purchasing decisions - as a travel business or as a traveller – like only using TOFTigers members including our Tour Operators, Ground Agents and PUG accredited Lodges – really can make a difference to both parks and local communities buffeted by wildlife conflict.

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