With the tiger fighting a losing battle for survival in the wild, here is the story of one man's resolve to see the royal beast in its natural habitat. Sought-after prize of tourists: A tigress at the Ranthambore Park. Tales of all-eluding tigers are perhaps the most swapped stories among eco-tourists. I remember sharing tables and travel stories with complete unknowns at a non-descript coffee house in Kolkata a year and a half back. Those were the days when the realisation that there existed fine demarcations between travellers also had not dawned on me. On that table that day, I understood that I was a cultural traveller

Generating funds and guaranteed sightings of exotic fauna are part of the misguided strategies of eco-tourism. Some 12 jeeps had converged at a point in the forest. In all there were about 50 people in them. They chattered and whispered in excitement, waiting for the tiger to emerge from where it was hiding. Finally it did, as it darted across the open space into the safe covers of the bushes and disappeared, almost like a ghost. Leaving behind the people in various levels of nirvana! Reporting on the "sightings' back at the resort, everyone was pleased. The manager, the guides and the tourists. The visit had been worth it, finally. But, a thought remained: what could be the thoughts of the tiger, that had been almost "ambushed' (in the words of a forest officer)? Opinions vary. On whether eco-tourism is a benevolent thing or can lead to more damage of our already fragile forests and wildlife. True eco-tourism is one in which the tourist takes back some lessons, and leaves behind nothing, no footprints. He/she learns to respect nature and the laws that operate in its pristine world. But, alarmingly what is emerging is nothing like that. The operators are there for money. The tourists come for excitement. With eco-tourism the mantra, it is time for a kill. The rates speak. All comforts are offered in the wilderness. And guarantees of a "tiger encounter' even offered in some places. The tourist can be heard grumbling and even asking back for money if a tiger or elephant is not sighted. Who cares about the squirrels or birds? And god forbid a tiger or elephant that crosses path with such tourists. Flashlights pop all around as cameras zoom in. With a good sighting, the guides and drivers can be coaxed into inching closer than allowed. Pleasing their customer comes before forest rules. Some even know how to annoy an elephant and cause a mock charge. For a good digital shot. They cannot be blamed. And now, the tourism department plans to take on more areas for eco-tourism. It would have been a good idea if again "development' and revenue were not the key-words, but conservation and education. The words used clearly show that it is about "tapping unused potential'. What a pity. Not only in Karnataka, but everywhere in the country, eco-tourism is an uncontrolled phenomenon with poor planning and short-term vision of generating money. In the national parks of Madhya Pradesh, jeeps queue up in a long line and let in a few at a time. After all, one gets guarantees of sightings here! But the other side of this is the well-known fact that tigers in Kanha and Ranthambore had got so used to human presence that they became sitting ducks for poachers! However, some experts believe eco-tourism can check poaching. "Papa' Wakefield, the brand ambassador of Jungle Lodges Resorts is one who is very sure that poaching is at its maximum when the "jungles are closed to tourists in the monsoons'. Annoyed with the PCCF's direction to have the parks closed for a "breeding season in July', Wakefield does agree that there is need to control eco-tourism. In the case of Kabini, he points to how there are so many operators in the area and more coming, that there are times when 21 vehicles used to be in the jungles at the same time. Now, with the intervention of the PCCF, this has been brought down to 12. What he, and others concerned about the alarming growth of eco-tourism, say is, "while you cannot stop anyone from buying land around jungles, you can stop their entry into the forests. Limited entry is required to disturb the animals the least'. The other area that needs to be discussed is how revenue generated from these resorts can be ploughed back into the forests, whether it be for conservation or paying pending salaries of forest staff. This revenue can amount to more than Rs 2 lakh from one resort alone. In states like MP, this money is being used for forest department needs, but not in Karnataka. Finally, a true nature lover will argue that eco-tourism can happen only if the tourists are willing to rough it out, to walk in the jungle rather than ride through it, to look around and absorb the flora and fauna, to learn lessons of interdependence. It's all there if one keeps eyes and ears open. The langur's alarm call that alerts all the other denizens of a predator, the parasite tree that grows on to the host tree, the life sustained by elephant dung, etc. That is how true eco-tourism should ideally be promoted. Even otherwise, it is necessary to incorporate education into the eco-tourism as being touted. With a mere four per cent protected area in the country, even a few enlightened persons can make a difference.

A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) report has stressed the need for a scientific evaluation of the effects of eco-tourism on a particular area. Presenting a paper on

The growth of tourism around protected areas, energy efficiency and waste disposal will be the focus at the seminar on 'Eco-Tourism in Karnataka: Challenges, policy and Future' to be held here on Tuesday. The seminar will also discuss partnership of eco-tourism operators in the conservation of forest and wildlife. Recommendations will be made in the presence of Parameshwarappa, who has been appointed by Planning Commission as advisor on eco-tourism. All stakeholders in eco-tourism, including the private investors, will be brought on a single platform where they can debate issues to evolve an eco-tourism policy, said Mr Tiwari. "There is a need to develop an

Recent trends show that the proportion of what we call the

Assam has a proud legacy of successfully conserving the great Indian one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)

Against the backdrop of the increasing popularity of ecotourism and the dramatic loss of tigers due to lack of funding, mismanagement, population and development pressures as well as poaching, this article finds that the present policies benefit neither conservation nor local communities.

The city zoo is expanding its panda exhibit for the 2008 Olympics and will ship in up to 10 more for visitors to see during the August Games, an official said on Thursday. The zoo is expanding its facilities to accommodate the additional animals and is also building a Giant Panda Museum which will document efforts to save the endangered species, a zoo spokeswoman said. "The pandas will be on loan from the Wolong Giant Panda Centre, but the numbers to be brought in are still under negotiation,' she said. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, up to 10 more pandas would be brought in from Wolong, the world's most successful panda breeding centre located in southwest China's Sichuan province. The panda exhibition is the most popular attraction at the Beijing Zoo and currently houses seven of the animals. A record number of pandas have been bred in China in recent years, with 31 born and 25 surviving at breeding centers around the nation in the first 11 months of 2007, earlier press reports said. In 2006, 33 pandas were born, with most of the new births in both years occurring at the Wolong centre, where artificial breeding techniques are continually improving, the reports said.

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