Wildlife needs conservationists from all walks of life, including those running eco-tourism
Let's not slander conservationists
In many countries, wildlife tourism is an important revenue source for conservation; it plays a crucial role in raising awareness on conservation issues and is also an 'industry' that has a friendly role in improving the lot of communities, living in remote areas with limited access to livelihood options. However, if not managed appropriately, wildlife tourism can have many negative effects. In India, the tourist infrastructure in the wilderness areas is not yet well-developed, except around a few protected areas (pas).
As a result, national parks and sanctuaries carry a heavy tourist burden. Many of the visitors to these areas are not so much wildlife tourists as people looking to experience nature, picnic by a river, walk through a forest, watch birds or simply get away from the pollution of the urban environment for a few hours. Forest and wilderness areas outside the pa network can cater to such visitors. If developed appropriately, these areas could filter and reduce the number of those entering parks and sanctuaries.
This is a facetious argument. A conservationist can be from any walk of life: an engineer, doctor, lawyer, journalist or an entrepreneur with a tourism-related business. Why should those committed to the preservation of wildlife and the environment be excluded from any business, including wildlife tourism? After all, conservationists are likely to run their business in much more eco-friendly manner compared to people who don't have such background.
Furthermore, many of us would like to see communities who live around pa s benefit more from tourism in these parks. This is necessary for ethical reasons and is also based on sound economic logic: after all people with an economic interest in wildlife are quite likely to desire its preservation. But then why denigrate one group of people for practicing something that is advocated for others.
We shall all be losers then.
Joanna Van Gruisen is a conservationist who has worked in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
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