x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

India's top court lifts ban on tiger tourism

Supreme Court lifts ban on tourism in tiger reserves across the country but has asked local governments to regulate visitors.

A tiger walks past a vehicle carrying tourists, at Ranthambore National Park in Ranthambore, India.
A tiger walks past a vehicle carrying tourists, at Ranthambore National Park in Ranthambore, India.

NEW DELHI // India's top court lifted a ban on tourism in tiger reserves across the country but asked local governments to regulate visitors.

The Supreme Court had ordered a complete ban on such tourism in July while the government formulated new guidelines. It lifted the ban this week after the government announced new rules aimed at allowing tourism to coexist alongside conservation.

According to the new rules, no new tourist facilities can be created in the tiger areas and only 20 per cent of tiger habitats will be open to visitors.

India is home to more than half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers, with most living in wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s.

Hundreds of hotels and shops operate inside the tiger reserves to cater to tourists.

The court had imposed the ban in July after a conservationist said critical tiger habitats should be kept safe from all types of human disturbances, including tourism.

Tour and travel operators argued that stopping tourism would encourage illegal wildlife trafficking as poachers would not be hindered by the presence of tourists.

In another effort to increase India's tiger population, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has advised states to create seven more tiger reserves, which would take the number of tiger reserves in the country to 49.

Rajesh Gopal, the NTCA member secretary, told a meeting at the United Nations biodiversity conference in Hyderabad that 41 of the existing tiger reserves covered 82,000 square kilometres across 17 states, or 2 per cent of the country's area.

He said the authority also planned to create a national database of tigers. "Each tiger will be given an identification number so that we know if any tiger is missing or is killed," he said.

Mr Gopal said protection measures taken under Project Tiger since 1973 had led to increase in the number of tigers from 1,411 in 2006 to 1,706 in 2010.

India's environment and forests minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, who inaugurated the event, said unmanned aircraft could also be used for tiger conservation. She has already announced the use of unmanned aircraft to check poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga National Park.

The meeting also discussed international cooperation for tiger conservation. Officials of Global Tiger Forum, an inter-governmental international body to protect tigers, said the Russian Federation had agreed to become its eighth member, while China was also likely to join the group soon.

Nuritdin Inamov, the director of the Russian natural resources and environment ministry's department of international cooperation, spoke about the initiatives taken since the tiger summit held in 2010.

All 13 tiger range countries have agreed on an effort to double the world's tiger population from 3,200 to 6,000 by 2022. Mr Inamov said that while the governments had committed $127 million (Dh466m) for tiger conservation, the programme still required $350m.

* With additional reporting by IANS