Tourism did not kill the tiger

When I first started my life with tigers 37 years ago it was as a tourist. I visited the heart of Ranthambore and saw little as tigers, if they were around, just hid themselves in the forest and ignored the visitor. The late Fateh Singh Rathore was the warden of the park and used his understanding of tigers to ensure that some areas within remained closed and others open in a rotatory fashion, which ensured peace for breeding tigers. As the park did well, Fateh took great pride in showing it to every visitor and tourist who came, including Rajiv Gandhi with his family and friends, and believe it or not Bill Clinton and his friends. After all, they were all tourists searching for that magnificent tiger. For years, life went on and as tourist numbers grew so did tiger numbers. In fact, all my colleagues started their lives as tourists to national parks, irrespective of what they feel about it today. We all know that forest lands are owned by the state's revenue departments and are in the custody of the forest department for safekeeping. Their governance is a state subject.

India has more than 14 types of climatic forest, from Ranthambore's dry deciduous belts to the mangrove delta of the Sundarbans near the Bay of Bengal. The diversity is intense and no one national guideline can work for all either in terms of management or tourism. Realising this, wildlife officers of the state always created their own site-specific guidelines. This was just commonsense. Many of our tiger reserves had mini "cores" and "No-Go" areas for visitors, which changed yearly depending on an area's needs. Till the 21st century, Delhi did not interfere much.

A "core" is supposed to be a small part of the whole. As far as the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) is concerned, the core or critical tiger habitat (CTH) is the whole, and by suggesting that tourism be phased out of this area, they in effect suggest that there will be no tourism at all! Cores or CTHs came into being with the NTCA in 2006 through amendments in the Wildlife Protection Act. Declaration of cores was done in a rush in order to insulate our tiger areas against the Forest Rights Act (FRA), which came into being before the end of 2007. So the Core/ CTH concept had to be completed before the birth of the FRA.

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