VIP tourists to national parks, a threat to tigers

VIP tourists to national parks, a threat to tigers
Ranthambhore is a celebrated tiger reserve, but more importantly the last holding ground for tigers of the Aravalli hill range and the only natural tiger population of a dry deciduous forest. These days it is facing an unfortunate crisis due to uncontrolled VIP tourism inside the park. National park rules and regulations are bent to service the free riders. If all the available patrolling vehicles are used to transport bureaucrats who come to see the tigers, most forest officials are deployed to escort them.

Of late, there have been more VIP vehicles than the paid, permitted tourism vehicles which transport regular tourists. On December 28, we at Tiger Watch observed that in a single safari, 26 vehicles entered the park, which is impossible without the support of forest officials. In fact, there could be more such violations as there are four more entrances that are yet to be monitored.

Even if one could take these violations in one’s stride, it’s a bit too much to see that even the park’s non-tourist areas are invaded by VIP tourists.

A recent incident points to the extent these illegal tourists have penetrated into the park and how they affect the core of the work there. Seven poachers with guns and axes were spotted in the so-called core and restricted area. But as the forest officers were busy spotting tigers for the VIPs, they could not reach the spot on time and the poacher’s gang slipped through. Poachers in day time is a clear indication that the patrolling inside the park is not adequate.

When asked, some junior forest officers unofficially admitted that they don’t even have vehicles to go from their residence to the office as their vehicles are sent for VIP safaris. Their drivers are so tired after a full-day VIP safari duty that they are not able to patrol the area with the officers. Forest drivers say the vehicles need basic maintenance, but they have no time to do that as they have to be kept in circulation for visiting bureaucrats. Also, it is common to see officials busy organising VIP trips — calling and keeping track of hotel bookings etc. Naturally, favours sought from local hotels are returned in the form of free safaris.

This mutual understanding is harming the parks — and the government revenue as well. The wireless set of the park, meant for internal communication, is brazenly being used by VIP tourists for spotting tigers. This communication mode often congregates all VIP vehicles in one location thus disturbing tigers, while they were supposed to be dispersed in various routes.

Similar news is coming from other parks like Gir, Corbett and Bandhavagrh as well. The government needs to make some policy to control this uncontrolled VIP tourism. For this adds up to the existing woes of tiger extinction.

This country is waking up against corruption, and these unwarranted visits which also fall under that category, should also come under the scanner. Besides, the tigers’ long-term survival depends on careful utilisation of the government resources allotted for conservation.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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