Released 21st November 2010
THE ONE MIGHTY STAKEHOLDER
NOT INVITED TO THE RUSSIAN TIGER SUMMIT
By Julian Matthews,
Chairman, Travel Operators for Tigers
As the World Bank sponsored Tiger Summit gets underway in Russia this week and Vladimir Putin, politicians, forest ministries, tiger and conservation experts and Non Governmental Organisations gather to thrash out a future for the Tiger, one important stakeholder has not been invited and will not be represented.
It’s rather surprising, given that this stakeholder is generating revenue worth hundreds of millions of dollar per annum - in India alone - and probably generates more cash for Tiger conservation than all the biggest wildlife agencies represented at the summit put together. Yes – it’s the wildlife tourism industry – or in India and Nepal it’s more often referred to as the ‘Tiger tourism’ industry.
The money from park fees, filming and photography in some of India’s well known parks had significantly increased park budgets over the last few years. The top five parks in Madhya Pradesh now generate US$2million (INR2.8 crore) a year in visitor fees alone. Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) estimated that Machali, a well known Tigress who lives in the tourism zone of Ranthambhore National Park, generated over US$100 million of direct revenue to businesses in ten years in and around the park, creating thousands of jobs, and huge revenue for Rajastan’s tax collectors. In reality it’s probably five times this in indirect tourism income. Now Tigers are infinitely more valuable alive - than killed and crushed in a bottle of Tiger wine, or laid in a Chinaman’s apartment.
So if the Tiger tourism industry is this important and generates so much money and so many alternative jobs to that of grazers, wood choppers and poachers, why, when it depends on wilderness landscapes (and Tigers) to survive, is it so often left out in the cold? Wouldn’t this be the perfect Summit to discuss how Governments and the tourism industry can use this sector, its moneybags and its ability to change local livelihoods to turn around Tiger conservation efforts across far more of its forests? Tigers are today best protected where tourism exists – often living in their densest numbers within the tourism zones.
The industry hardly gets a mention – and is certainly not highlighted in any meeting or high level round table gatherings at the forthcoming Summit. In fact in India, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, is endorsing a public interest litigation to close all Tiger parks in Madhya Pradesh. The locals, many who were originally displaced to make way for tiger habitat are furious. They have new livelihoods and jobs they stand to loose.
With 250 million increasingly affluent Indian’s wanting to see one of the few tigers left in the wild, (along no doubt with President Putin, every politician and every participant at the Tiger summit) why is this happening? To my mind every attending government, NGO’s and their forest officers should be designing visionary partnerships and methods in which they can incentivise the nature tourism industry to do a better job, and invest in the very forest protection and wildlife that their visitors demand to see.
If Governments attending the Tiger summit don’t do this, we will only get a perpetuation of the very worst kind of tourism we can already see mushrooming today. Furthermore we will have lost the opportunity to use this industry as a better, more powerful conservation tool to save Tigers and their increasingly denuded forests.
Many other countries have been able to do this successfully, restoring millions of acres of once denuded landscapes, using well conceived, locally supported nature tourism.
Let’s hope India and other Tiger Range countries can do the same too – and soon.
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Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) is a voluntary global campaign, based in India and UK, that advocates, supports and endorses a more responsible use of wilderness habitats across the Asian subcontinent. 150 of the world’s best known travel companies and Indian tourism providers are members. www.toftigers.org