India's 'endangered tiger'
tale gets a twist By Raja Murthy
JIM CORBETT NATIONAL PARK, Uttarakhand,
India - Protecting India's endangered tigers
endangers the booming tiger tourism that is
endangering the beasts - that about sums up
outcome of India's Supreme Court order banning
tourism in "core areas" of the tiger habitat. The
court extended the ban on August 22, and is due to
hear the case next on August 29.
"Twenty-five thousand people here will
lose their livelihood if the tiger areas are
closed," said Manoj Dhawal, among a group of
aggrieved guides cooling their off-season heels on
a muggy Tuesday afternoon outside the Corbett
Tiger Reserve director's office complex in
Ramnagar, a northern Indian town in the
Himalayan state of
Uttarakhand. The town economy depends on
In season, in the
pre-dawn hours, the place is a gushing river of
tourists, touts and tour taxis in a thriving
Operation See the Tiger. The boom might now go
The Supreme Court order could
virtually shut down major tiger reserves in India
- and the supporting infrastructure of resorts,
guides, vehicle owners, restaurants, bus
operators, villages around "tiger towns" like
Ramnagar in the foothills of the Kumaon Himalayas.
The 1,300-square-kilometer Corbett
National Park is the first and one of India's
finest tiger reserve areas. Locals say the tiger
population here is actually increasing, but the
court order seems the inevitable outcome of
long-festering tiger-poaching problems in Corbett
and other reserves and unmonitored
tourism-industry growth encroaching into
restricted forest areas.
In imposing the
ban, a Supreme Court bench of judges, Swatanter
Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifullah, was responding to
conservationist Ajay Dubey's petition demanding
removal of commercial tourism activities from core
areas in tiger reserves.
Since the core
area, or buffer zone, can sometimes cover about
1,000 square kilometers, plenty of real-estate
issues and stakeholders are desperately involved
in this new twist in the tiger's endangered tale.
More than 150 resorts and hotels in Ramnagar
depend on the animal to attract guests.
Only about 3,700 tigers are considered to
exist in the world today, and India has about
1,700 of these. It also has has 42 tiger reserves,
 the most in the world. Most of the reserves
could join the tiger on the endangered list if the
court order is implemented permanently.
"Tourists come here mainly to see the
tiger," said Ajay, an aggrieved Corbett tour
operator. "A tiger gets killed in an accident, and
they say it's poached."
Local people argue
that dead tigers in Corbett are not victims of
poaching. One tour-operator claims a some have
died of pollution - suggesting that they might
have inhaled too much carbon dioxide. The
industry has mounted a desperate counter-case for
the Supreme Court judges to hear on whether to
shut down core tiger-inhabited areas. The core
question is whether tourism is actually killing
the tiger, or whether funding for the animal's
survival depends on the money tourists bring in
have that increasingly rare sighting.
resorts have already shut down near Ramnagar,
including the award-winning Camp Forktail Creek at
the Corbett National Park boundary. "We closed
down before the court order because of problems of
unregulated tourism," owner Minakshi Pandey told
Asia Times Online.
Land sharks are
meanwhile grabbing chunks of the surrounding Sal
forests from tribal people and selling them to
real-estate developers. The ensuing concrete
jungle of hotels has overrun environment-friendly
resorts such as Forktail Creek, whose particular
selling point was hut stays in an isolated, forest
atmosphere. Guests live in mud huts, without
electricity, and with lanterns and candlelight.
Tube lights fill the neighborhood instead of
Pandey said the local hotel
owners had formed an association and hired a
lawyer to plead in the Supreme Court. The big hope
is that hotel owners' "big" connections in Delhi -
read politicians - can help out and that the
Supreme Court order, in whatever form, can be
dodged in some way or other.
governments too are appealing against the
temporary order. The central Indian state of
Madhya Pradesh in its affidavit sought changes in
the Supreme Court order of July 24.  The Madhya
Pradesh government says there are 650 villages
housed in the core areas, with about 346,000
people, half of them tribals, eking out their
living through tourism.
"Despite 20 years
of international conservation efforts, we are
losing ground to save the tiger," writes Craig
Kasnoff in his website on endangered species. 
"In the endangered-species list, all subspecies of
tigers are considered critically endangered
Multiple factors led to the
tiger's present tale. Given that each issue needs
viewing from all possible angles, how much did the
tiger's diet lead to its demise? Who knows if the
tiger may have been spared much of its current
survival woes if it had adapted in feeding its
average adult body weight of 306 kilograms.
The species Panthera tigris had
about 2 million years to change itself from being
only a flesh eater. It didn't - unlike humans, who
live happily on plant products. And as it needs
sometimes 200 square kilometers of territorial
area to hunt its prey, real-estate conflicts with
humans were inevitable.
The other largely
ignored perspective seems to be the view from
deer, antelope, cattle and other mild animals that
form the tiger's rigid non-grass-eating diet -
keeping the tiger is a threat to their very lives.
Yet eating humans is another major problem that is
endangering the tiger. They kill an average of
about 25 people in Bangladesh  each year, for
instance, in the land conflicts between tiger and
Ironically, the more tigers are
killed, the higher the price poachers can fetch
for capturing or killing those that remain. The
problem is not limited to India. Fewer than 2,500
of the majestic Bengal tiger (P tigris
tigris) survive in India, Nepal, Bhutan and
Bangladesh. The Indochinese tiger (P tigris
corbetti), also known as Corbett's tiger,
count to barely 350 in Thailand, Cambodia, China,
Myanmar and Vietnam.
In China, where the
tiger is already extinct in the wild, only about
55 South China tigers (P tigris amoyensis)
live in captivity, despite the best efforts of the
government to breed it. India's Supreme Court on
August 29 resumes its efforts to spare
subcontinental tigers from a similar fate.