Nature tourism integral to India’s Tiger conservation efforts: TOFT report

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A new study by tiger ecologists, funded by Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) highlights the significant role that wildlife tourism is playing in securing the long-term future of the tiger and its forest habitats in the wild. The report focuses on four Tiger Reserves in Madhya Pradesh, finding that entry fees alone from visitors contribute over £2.3 million per annum, over half the total funds now provided by central and state governments for their annual protection.

Furthermore, villages with tourism infrastructure have revenues from small businesses eight times higher than those without and also benefit from higher levels of employment, greatly improved health and better educational levels. Critically these communities are now much less dependent on the forest for wood and livelihoods, and wildlife tourism has created a ‘tiger-friendly’ perception amongst such communities – a positive win-win for tiger conservation efforts.

However, it is also outlined that the international tourism has dropped by almost 50% in the last five years in central India, despite India being home to some of the world’s most beloved cats, so immortalised in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book.’

“If nature tourism is seen as a conservation tool rather than a threat, it has the potential to bring sustainable and significant economic development to many remote areas. Many countries around the world have shown this and benefitted from increased biodiversity conservation,” said Raghu Chundawat, the scientist who led the research team.

Julian Matthews, Founder, TOFTigers, which funded the report, points out, “The study has found that many of the criticisms levelled at the tourism community are not correct here when examined closely. For instance, 80% of jobs are held by locals, 45% of all the direct revenue goes to the local economy and the researchers found zero evidence of forest cover loss.”

He goes on to add that there are certainly still key issues, including poor planning, lighting, noise and waste disposal that need to be improved to enjoy the full potential of this sector to support tiger protection and forest conservation. “However, with the average lodge occupancy at only around 31%, we need to see a revival of interest by the international travel community in India’s incredibly rich natural heritage and for them to follow our lead in responsible travel by choosing the PUG mark when they’re selecting places to stay,” he added.