Plan for new tourism routes in Sariska Tiger reserve draws flak
The state forest department’s plan to open new routes for tourists through the Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR) will put more stress on tigers with villages yet to be relocated from the reserve, said former officials associated with wildlife protection.
Possible new routes through STR were discussed at a recent meeting held at the chief wildlife warden’s office in Jaipur regarding tourism in tiger reserves and protected areas.
A former STR administration official said conservation of tigers and relocation of the villages should be the priority. “Merely opening tourism routes to please hotel lobby and tourism industry will create more fear among the already stressed tigers due to excessive human population around,” he said.
The reserve has lost four tigers and three cubs in the last 15 months; two of them fell prey to poaching. Human pressure on tigers remains, as 26 villages are still inside STR. Their relocation was due but no concrete steps have been taken. Recently a few families were relocated but wildlife activists say the move wasa formality as the families’ relatives and belongings, including cattle, remain inside STR and they continue to exploit resources.
The possible new routes under consideration are from Madhogarh to Devra via Panidhal, from Sariska entry gate to Kraska and from Sariska gate to Kankwari Fort. There are human habitations and cattle population on these routes, so chances of animal sightings are low due to disturbances, which might disappoint tourists, wildlife activists say.
Routes will be feasible after relocation of villages. Sariska gate-kankwari fort route is full of scenic beauty but animal sightings are rare on it, they say.
Religious tourism exposes core zones of Sariska to human interference during the breeding season of tigers, said former officials associated with the reserve. As per a court order, people are permitted to visit the Hanuman temple in Pandupol, which lies deep inside the forest, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. With low entry fee, a large number of people visit the temple on the two days, even during the mating season of tigers, former officials said.
Former STR field director RS Shekhawat said major focus has to be on conservation of tigers and providing sustainable environment to them, which includes habitat restoration, effective law enforcement and relocation of villages; the measures will provide space to tigers for breeding. “Tourism has to be a secondary focus area to avoid putting stress on reintroduced tiger population till a sustainable tiger population is achieved,” Shekhawat said.
A former official said a recent scientific study, conducted by LACONES (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology’s Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species) in Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, has suggested that tigers in tourist zones are more stressed out than the ones in nontourist zones.
When the same group conducted research in STR three years back, tigers were found to be stressed on the basis of their hormone level in scat, he said. “We should consider the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which say that not more than 20% of the core area should be opened for tourism and scientific study should be done to assess the tourist-carrying capacity of the reserves,” he said.