Wildlife holidays make for great memories, but there are some things you must keep in mind while visiting a forest, says Tanmaya Vyas on the occasion of Global Tiger Day
“These days, tourists who visit national parks are so obsessed with tiger sighting that they forget that other wildlife exists too. It’s about getting the whole experience and being familiar with wildlife, because once you help preserve the whole habitat, the tiger will automatically get saved.”
- Dr Parvish Pandya
Global Tiger Day, also known as International Tiger’s Day, will be celebrated on July 29. Over the years, tiger sighting has become an adventurous activity that is on the bucket list of every wildlife enthusiast and tourist. In a country that has a myriad tourism options, wildlife tourism has emerged as a large market that shows a projection of $1.3 billion by 2023. India has 103 national parks, of which over 50 national parks register half of the world’s tiger population.
A growing middle-class with disposable income for holidays; the development of national parks, increased exposure through media and the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign some years ago have been the major reasons for the emergence of this segment in the tourism industry. However, while it is a true pleasure watching the big cat in its full glory, few realise that the rising number of visitors can have tremendous nuisance value for this majestic animal. Visitors often forget that the jungle is home for animals and that they are guests who need to follow certain basic etiquette.
“There are laws set by the Forest Department which are for the benefit of the animals as well as visitors,” explains Kaustubh Mulay, naturalist at many tiger reserves in India and owner of Pristine Wildlife Tourism. “For example, getting too close could make the animal uneasy and trigger panic and therefore should be avoided. Accidental close sighting, where the animal approaches the jeep, is a different case, as the animal is aware of your presence.”
Kaustabh adds: “Once while we were on tour, we sighted a tigress near the jeep. The guides realised that she was in fact mating with a tiger, who was nowhere to be seen. We instructed the tourists to maintain decorum. However, one tourist jumped out of the car to see the animals closely. From nowhere the male tiger charged towards the jeep and in the nick of time we were able to grab the tourist, get him back in the vehicle and drive off. A difference of one second would have made the tourist the tiger’s prey. We need to realise that though tigers or, for that matter, most animals in India wouldn’t attack you for no reason, there could be times when we encounter them when they are on a kill. Even when they are mating, male tigers usually get aggressive, therefore breaching their territory is certainly not sensible.”
The vehicles most often used to sight tigers are open jeeps driven deep in the forest. Recently, Tadoba Andhari Reserve, the largest National Park in Maharashtra, declared that only 39 jeeps would be allowed at a time, to reduce clogging on the road and avoid overwhelming the animals. The usual rule is to maintain a minimum 50-metre distance between two jeeps, which seems impractical but is important to follow. These laws are framed according to the area of the National Park and are in the best interest of the tourists. Dr Parvish Pandya, a Zoology professor, says, “Each national park has its own rules of how many vehicles could be allowed in and it is advised to follow the rule.”
Apart from the pollution that too many vehicles can generate, tourists can create other problems as well. Parvish remarks, “Basic things like using authorised toilets have to be reiterated even to adults. It is always advised to take bio-breaks before you enter the jungle, but some tourists refuse to listen.” He also observes that tourists who are obsessed with tigers are actually the biggest problem. “These days, tourists who visit national parks are so obsessed with tiger sighting that they forget that other wildlife exists too. It’s about getting the whole experience and being familiar with wildlife, because once you help preserve the whole habitat, the tiger will automatically get saved.”
Earlier, wildlife photography was an expensive hobby to nurture, considering the pricey lenses and equipment; however with easy accessibility to camera phones or hand-held devices, wildlife photography has become a popular hobby and another prime reason for the increase in the footfall at national parks. Parvish continues, “Let’s just Google or go on social media pages and check the number of tiger pictures. We need to ask ourselves before clicking a picture how it would be different from already published photos. Tourists need to practise ‘Ethical Photography’. The over-excitement of taking pictures can hold a line of people who are equally eager to see the animal. Therefore showing this decency would be sensible.”
Bittu Sahgal, a well-known environmentalist and activist, has a point to be noted on World Tiger’s Day, "On Global Tiger Day 2018 it would do all of us in India well to remember that it is the forests of the tiger and other wild species that sustain us. Our water, food and economic security is totally linked to the ecological health of natural India, particularly in an era of advancing climate change. This is well understood by the one million children who are part of the Sanctuary Nature Foundation's Kids for Tigers programme, but not so easily by planners.”
Parvish makes another important point. The tiger has become the unofficial mascot of National Park conservation, which is a good sign. However, following basic rules and protocol will be helpful for the entire movement. We don’t just have to ‘Save Tigers’; we have to ensure they lead peaceful lives in their own habitats.
On a wildlife vacation…
- Maintain safe distance from the animal/s.
- Never get out of the vehicle when in a jungle
- Smoking or consumption of alcohol in the jungle is prohibited for a reason.
- Avoid taking children to national parks, Unlike zoos, animals here are in their natural habitat. Children crying or making noise due to excitement could disturb the animals and in some cases provoke them too.
- The jungle is not the place for mobile phones and music systems. Instead enjoy sounds of nature and treat all your senses.
- When you spot an animal, especially a tiger, don’t speak or even whisper. It may seem like whispering to us, but it is not so for them.
- While taking pictures ensure that you never use the flash.
- Follow the tour guide and his instructions.
- Follow the designated trails/ routes.