May 18, 2010

Here's more ‘ostrich in the sand’ type conservation!

India to stop tiger tourism in attempt to prevent species extinction.

For centuries, the prospect of spotting a Bengal tiger in the wild has been a highlight of visiting India. Now the Government is to end the spectacle amid fears that the species is being “loved to death” by visitors desperate for a glimpse of tigers in the wild.
Tourism is to be phased out in the core regions of the 37 tiger reserves, Rajesh Gopal, the head of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, told The Times. “We should not forget that tiger reserves are primarily for conserving the endangered tiger and tourism is just a secondary outcome,” he said. “Our reserves are small and prone to disturbance caused by tourism. They cannot compete with large African savanna parks, which can stand large number of tourists.”
The Environment Ministry has ordered India’s states to wind down tourism in such areas and to tightly regulate it in surrounding regions where the chance of seeing a tiger is far smaller, Dr Gopal said. People who live in core tiger habitats will be moved.
A count in February 2008 showed that India’s tiger population had plummeted to 1,411 animals, down from 3,642 in 2002. The latest figure is disputed, however. Some experts say that there may be only 800 wild tigers in India today and that the species could be rendered extinct in five years.
According to government officials, the species has already disappeared or is in danger of becoming extinct in 16 reserves. A century ago, when tiger hunting was a favourite pastime of Raj-era dignitaries, there were an estimated 40,000 in India.
The decline is largely due to poaching, but habitat damage caused by tourism has also reached critical levels, experts say. “Seeing a wild tiger has become a kind of status symbol,” M. K. Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, said. “People do not realise the harm to the broader ecosystem. They are loving the tiger to death.”
Tourists, whether in vehicles or on top of elephants, destroy the high grassland in which the big cats hunt, and drive away their prey, Mr Ranjitsinh said. In many parks, lodges have been built in core reserve areas while hotels block the corridors that tigers use to travel from one territory or reserve to another.
Some reserves have been criticised for using radio telemetry systems for tracking tigers for the benefit of tourists. Once found by a mahout — an elephant driver — brandishing an antenna, a single tiger can be hounded by dozens of tourist vehicles.
“The parks’ priorities have become warped,” Mr Ranjitsinh said. The bamboo forests and grassland in Kanha provided inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Experts agree that only radical action can bring back the tiger from the brink of extinction, but add that tourism is only one of several dangers. Poaching to feed Chinese demand for traditional tonics has taken a heavy toll. So too has competition for space between tigers and India’s booming human population.
Jairam Ramesh, the Environment Minister, said this month that unregulated tourism was as much a threat to tiger population as poaching. He said that he would clamp down on “mushrooming luxury resorts around tiger reserves”. He singled out Corbett National Park — named after the British hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett and a favourite destination with Western tourists — as a habitat that had degenerated because of tourism. At least four tigers have died there in the past two months, according to reports.
On the other hand, let's look at it this way:
- Julian Matthews
This is the kind of NTCA’s bizarre thinking on trying to save Tigers.
For six years I (and many others) have been saying to NTCA and Forest Department that where tourism exists today is where the Tigers are still surviving. Corbett has the highest numbers of Tigers left in India and 65000 visitors - a fact not mentioned in the article above. Bandavgarh has 5 breeding females and 14 cubs in the Tala Tourism zone today and 45000 visits- unbelievably high densities - given that tourism is meant to be ‘killing’ tigers and destroying habitat.
The reality in India today is where there is NO tourism = NO Tigers (or very few). The 15 tiger reserves that have no tigers - also have historically had no or very small levels of tourism!!
The reasons why tourism saves tigers is - More resources are channelled here, more accountability of Forest staff, more alternative livelihoods than marginal farming, poaching, grazing and wood chopping, (they stay away from tourist zones) and millions more people who care about nature - having visited the places. Also millions of dollars extra in Forest department’s coffers to put into conservation measures/staff etc.
Habitat that has no tourism is now in a desperately poor state of health, overgrazed, burnt often, no prey left, no understory left, and being chopped down! Simply it is ‘unloved’. You don’t have to be a wildlife research scientist to see this!
This is not to justify what lots of tourism is doing today (outside of park boundaries of course) - a lot of it is poor and unsustainable - and I have been advocating all this time for better rules, regulations and ENFORCEMENT. ONLY the government can effect this and lay down a template for using tourism more effectively – so let’s not blame the easy target for a complete vacuum of vision from the government here.

May 15, 2010

Island Ecology - Andaman and Nicobar Islands!

This June, when the monsoons have just set in, we will head to a place that most people associate sunshine with. Sandy beaches, great snorkeling, star-studded skies, etc. We’ve chosen to go there to see a completely different side to The Andaman Islands. We’re looking at the animals that come out when the rains begin and enjoy the cooler clime and wetter environment.

This Island Ecology Experience is going to focus on the most alive season for herpetofauna! We will explore four separate habitats, better understanding the dynamics at play within them and how they affect each other.

We’ll be staying at the premier conservation and research body on the islands- The Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team’s base. We’ll get involved with their experiences, work and endeavors’. We will explore the adjoining mangroves, inter-tidal zone and rainforests, examining the ecological dynamics that are at play in each of these unique but interdependent habitats.

The workshop will encompass a lot of learning skills, experiencing new ecosystems and getting numerous photo opportunities. We’ll see many species that are unique to the islands and some that are adapted specifically to life in island habitats.

There is also a good chance that we will get to go snorkeling. However, given that this is the monsoon season, this will depend on the weather. Fingers crossed. We will spend some time by the reefs but what remains to be seen is how much we’ll see!


· Understanding Island Ecologies

· Mangrove walks- Searching for specialized animals

· Intertidal Zone- Understanding this unique niche

· Visits to the reef

· Looking for crocodiles

· Herpetofaunal surveys

· Photography sessions

· Ecology presentations

· Canopy access (weather dependent)

· Snorkeling for marine life

· Loads of hands on experience

· Night surveys

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team (ANET)
The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a chain of some 300 little known archipelagic islands situated on the eastern rim of the Bay of Bengal. Closely guarded by the Indian Government, they remain a pristine tropical island paradise, complete with stunning coral reefs, crystal blue waters and unspoiled equatorial rainforest. Most extraordinary, many of the islands are a bastion for some of the last remaining aboriginal tribes on earth that continue to shun all contact with the outside world. The Andamanese, as these tribes are collectively known as, inhabit a significant percentage of the islands in fully protected areas that remain completely off limits to the general public.Shortly after setting up the Croc Bank in the 1970s, the Whitakers realize there were needs for basic herpetological and other ecological work in the then much neglected islands. Over the next several years Rom, together with Satish Bhaskar and Alok Mallick, set about crafting a strategy to effectively address these issues. The Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team (ANET) was conceived in 1989 and shortly thereafter five acres of land was purchase and a base station constructed in Wandoor, on the southern tip of South Andaman island.
ANET has since carried out extensive work on marine turtles, herpetofaunal biogeography and a host of other biological studies. In addition, ANET has been actively involved in the broader ecological and social spheres including work on natural resource utilization, socioeconomics and the management of protected areas. As one of the most capable NGOs in the region, ANET played a pivotal humanitarian and disaster relief role in the
Nicobar Islands after the infamous 2004 tsunami devastated the region. Today, although still very active in the reptile arena (with a recently described genus of Agamid named at the base to prove it!) ANET has a very broad curriculum of environmental development work, including marine and terrestrial components. ANET is the only environmental research base in the islands and remains one of the Croc Banks most exotic and luxurious projects – our very own Treasure Island!

For further details or to register please get in touch with Chaitanya on 9886285988 (