Travel operators unhappy over ban on tourism in tiger sanctuaries

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Ninety travel operators under the banner of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) have expressed their unhappiness at the Supreme Court order disallowing tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves.

Expressing his anguish over the judgment, Dr Goverdhan Rathore, a lodge owner and son of the legendary conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore, expressed surprise that the Supreme Court has chosen to disregard clear evidence that “wildlife tourism in Indian tiger reserves was not harming tigers”.

Mr Rathore cited examples of Corbett, Ranthambor, Bandhavgarh reserves where tiger numbers have gone up even as tourism figures have also increased in contrast to “unseen and unloved sanctuaries” which have lost their tigers and wildlife due to poaching and neglect.

Expressing surprise over the order, Mr Rathore said the Supreme Court had not chosen to pay attention to the disruptive role of religious tourism and its adverse impact to wildlife.

“From next week, more than one million people will enter Ranthambore for the Ganeshmela. In the same way, over one lakh tourists enter Sariska every Tuesday to pray at a Hanuman temple.

"Their presence is much more disruptive whereas the presence of 40 vehicles inside the sanctuary for a six- hour period in a day has been found to be detrimental to wildlife,” Mr Rathore added.

The TOFT, in a statement, has urged the apex court to consider a review petition and continue to allow “responsible tourism” across tiger reserves so that nature lovers can get a chance to see animals in their natural habitat.

Wildlife Protection Society of India director Belinda Wright claimed, “Around the world, parks are trying to do both conservation and tourism in a complementary manner but we are doing the opposite.”

“Poachers must be celebrating because they will now have a free run of these reserves,” said Ms Wright.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, however, welcomed the court’s order stating that she would ask state governments to strictly follow the directives of the top court.

“I will personally write to all chief ministers asking them to strictly follow the top court directive,” said Ms Natarajan, expressing concern about the increasing numbers of tourists visiting tourist reserves.

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