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Can Africa Style Wildlife Tourism be Brought to India?

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Guest Blog by Amit Sankhala
 
Around the world when we talk about wildlife tourism, the first instinct of any traveler is – ‘Let’s go to Africa. They have the Big 5’. Although, when we compare mammals, India has the big 5 and more – Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhinoceros and the Leopard. In addition to these African Big 5, we have the Royal Bengal Tiger, which alone stands as the most attractive of all.

We have all seen the news in the last few weeks, criticizing wildlife tourism in India. Are we that unregulated? And is the argument – ‘this is not Africa’, allow us to ignore the African models? In my book, no. I have been to Africa a few times, they have great models that allow humans and animals to coexist. But unlike Africa, India has rainforest, deserts and savanna land. There isn’t one guideline for national park’s or conservancies in any African country. Uganda has Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, which runs on a very similar system like in India. All the lodges are outside the national park, and have limited number of permits issued to track gorillas inside the park. Alternatively, Uganda also has Ishasha with Savanna lands, but the lodges exist inside the national park. These are two very different models in the same country. Both employ local people, run with strict guidelines enforced by the government and practice what has become a keyword today – ‘ecotourism’. The number of permits in Bwindi regulate the people entering the national park, whereas, the number of beds within Ishasha limit the people in a particular area of the park.

The rapid economic development, globalization and the growth of tourism, does put our natural heritage at risk. Whether it is the Tiger or any monument. However, the impact of tourism in the lesser-developed countries is not always a negative one. Apart from the much needed income generation that external visitors can bring to communities, regulated tourism can also be beneficial especially when managed sustainably.

Local development and wildlife tourism has became one of the biggest industries for the country. If our wildlife tourism policy would have been brought in 20-30 years, with guidelines enforcing construction of lodges, states to open skill development schools for local villages, to actually have high value but low impact lodges, then today we could have had community projects even inside the national park. But the guidelines put together by our forest ministry plans to bring all of India under the same policy umbrella. We need a bigger vision, possibly where wildlife tourism is separated from the forest department. Hopefully with the growth of responsible and sustainable travel to India, India's natural habitats and wildlife will see an even a greater future.
 

Amit Sankhala
Managing Director
Jungle Lodges (Tiger Resorts Pvt. Ltd)

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