Fragile, endangered and to a large extent neglected, wildlife protection and conservation in India needs an extremely serious and sensitive urgent action plan. Wildlife tourism can be an important tool for wildlife conversation. This is done across the world but not successfully in India. Good, regulated wildlife tourism can be beneficial to wildlife. Tourism is good for the health, working and functioning of our protected areas as it keeps the management on their toes in terms of being vigilant and in their approach toward wildlife. There is always a tendency to slip when it comes to accountability and transparency especially since wildlife protection is a public interest issue. People have the right to see their wildlife wealth and experience India’s unique wildernesses. It is important for people to appreciate and enjoy the wealth, but with respect; it brings an element of responsibility. To much of intervention is dangerous, hence there has to be a fine balance between exposure to humans and protection of wildlife habitat.
Wildlife tourism needs to be better managed to make it sustainable. It is extremely crucial to control the number of resorts mushrooming around the periphery of our wilderness areas and tiger reserves. Many of these, even if they are on private land, block critical wildlife corridors. With good science and satellite imaginary one can identify critical wildlife corridors that should not be tampered with. We need better land use policies around wilderness areas. Such policies can only be achieved if it is an inclusive process with all the stakeholders involved.
It is time we looked at the big picture. It is crucial to strike the right balance between need and greed and what is best for wildlife. If this is done right then it’s a win-win situation for all. Protection of wildlife, sustainable and responsible tourism, with participation and benefit-sharing with local communities will give visitors the opportunity to enjoy our natural wealth and be sustainable for future generations. The authorities and stakeholders need to understand this, but sadly people are just not listening. Everyone is on this rapid highway to so-called development and the biggest tragedy of the nation will be if India’s wildlife is destroyed in the process. How will future generations judge us if we allow this to happen?
India’s North East region has some of the richest bio-diversity in the world. Places, like Namdapha, Balphakram, Kaziranga and Manas, to name a few, are some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring, wilderness areas in the world. The great opportunity here is that many of the North East’s protected areas have not been developed for tourism. This is a fantastic opportunity to get it right and learn from the many mistakes from elsewhere. It is a chance to create the perfect balance between protection, community participation and sustainable tourism.