Can ecotourism help save the tiger?

Last week, fellow hand-picked blogger Vicki Bonham posted an article about the problems facing tigers in the wild. Coincidentally, a few days after reading this a set of news alerts on tigers hit my inbox. At the end of January, a high-level meeting in Thailand for the first time laid the groundwork for joint action among Asian countries on tiger conservation, and set a target of doubling the number of wild tigers – but there is still much to be done before the targets set become reality.

The meeting was the First Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, held at Hua Hin, Thailand, attended by Ministers and senior officials from the 13 Tiger Range Countries (TRC): Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand & Vietnam.

The nations promised to crack down on poaching that has devastated the big cats, as well as prohibit the building of roads and bridges that could harm their habitats. The consortium also agreed to protect core tiger habitats, as well as buffer zones and corridors that connect key sanctuaries and national parks. Governments also committed to reduce poaching through beefed-up law enforcement and to minimize human-tiger conflicts through job creation programs and other efforts. The conference pledged to double tiger populations from todays estimated 3000-3500 by 2022.

Delegates adopted the proposal and plan to discuss the matter in more detail at their next meeting, which is expected to be held in Indonesia this June. The declaration would need to be approved by heads of state, and a global tiger summit is scheduled to take place in September in Vladivostok, Russia.

"This is excellent news for tiger conservation," said Michael Baltzer, head of the World Wildlife Fund's Tiger Initiative.

But there are two downsides to what has been agreed so far. Before the final resolution, China successfully lobbied to delete language requiring a permanent ban on the tiger trade, even though China's domestic tiger trade has been banned since 1993. China has been actively lobbying to reopen its domestic trade.

And the conservation effort does not include any money to finance it beyond present budgets. Rather, the nations have agreed to ask international institutions (e.g., the World Bank) for money. They have further agreed to use money from ecotourism, carbon financing and infrastructure projects to pay for tiger programs.

There are some well-known examples of how tourism can help conservation of keynote species by putting an economic value on the animals – for example whale sharks and mountain gorillas, with much of the tourist industry in Rwanda and Uganda centred on the latter animal. For tigers the situation is more problematic: tigers not only kill livestock, but people living in their range, and tourism is harder to develop as sightings of these elusive animals in dense forest can never be guaranteed.

Despite this, ecotourism is seen as one of the ways of not just generating funds for tiger conservation, but of growing support for conservation both among tourists and in communities living in the tigers range. UK tour operators founded the Travel Operators for Tigers campaign in 2004 with the aim of spreading best practice tourism and using ecotourism's spending power to change local lives and livelihoods and help save the forest habitats of the tiger.

Keith Sproule (currently with WWF Namibia) and Steve Noakes (Pacific Asia Tourism Pty Ltd & Ecolodges Indonesia) were invited by the World Bank to provide examples from their own experiences contributing to biodiversity conservation and community benefits from wildlife tourism.

Keith and Steve introduced the delegates to contemporary case studies on ecotourism and wildlife conservation in Namibia and Indonesia. While ecotourism is not a panacea for tiger conservation, it was generally agreed by delegates that properly planned and well managed, it should be one of the more beneficial tools to be applied. Namibia in particular is often used as an example of providing incentives for local communities to live with wildlife, including predators. (For details of the Community Based Natural Resources Management program which aims to integrate rural development and conservation, see this link).

The three core messages of Keith Sproule's presentation included:

• Devolution of Rights over Wildlife and Tourism to Communities

• The parallel successes of Tourism Joint-Ventures (JV’s) and Wildlife Recovery

• Impact at the Destination-Level

Steve Noakes cited the experiences of Ecolodges Indonesia and the challenges facing the wild tiger habitat within Way Kambas National Park. The 'bottom-line' of his presentation was ‘Tourism not a panacea for wildlife conservation, poverty reduction & related MDG targets. But it can play an important part."

The further reading list below is taken from a search on the Leisure Tourism Database, which carries regular articles on wildlife tourism and conservation.

Further Reading

Conservation of tiger (Panthera tigris) and its habitats – experiences of co-existence of people and Protected Area from Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India. Bhardwaj, A. K.; Krishnan, P. G.; Geetha, K.; Veeramani, A.; Indian Forester, 2006, 132, 10, pp 1233-1242, many ref.

Tiger crisis: a (mis)understood development paradigm. Gupta, A. K.; Srivastava, R. K.; Indian Forester, 2005, 131, 10, pp 1272-1278

Nature lovers, picnickers and bourgeois environmentalism. Mawdsley, E.; Deepshikha Mehra; Beazley, K.; Economic and Political Weekly, 2009, 44, 11, pp 49…59, many ref.

Local people's attitudes towards conservation and wildlife tourism around Sariska Tiger Reserve, India. Sekhar, N. U.; Journal of Environmental Management, 2003, 69, 4, pp 339-347, many ref. [doi. 10.1016/j.jenvman.2003.09.002]

Planning and developing interpretive facilities – linking visitors and protected area: a case study from Panna Tiger Reserve. Sinha, B. C.; Indian Forester, 2007, 133, 5, pp 642-646, 12 ref.

Collaborating to conserve large mammals in Southeast Asia. Steinmetz, R.; Chutipong, W.; Seuaturien, N.; Conservation Biology, 2006, 20, 5, pp 1391-1401, many ref. [ doi 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00505.x]

One thought on “Can ecotourism help save the tiger?

  1. Sunglass Camera Girl February 3, 2010 / 4:54 pm

    I’m glad to see the nations are in agreement – Let’s hope they get the funding they need to follow through!

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