Our national animal is no more notional. Our fellow-citizens have been unexpectedly vocal about the Supreme Court order banning tourism in the core areas of notified tiger reserves. Broadly, there have been two contentions — anguished, wounded pleas from the “eco-tourists” and a hopeful, half-relieved sigh from activists, conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and suchlike, besides a few balanced opinions from those in the middle ground.
The wildlife resort business in India, modeled on African game safaris, has taken off in the last decade, and tiger reserves have been under intense pressure to entertain their wealthy guests and patrons. Ergo, it has been the beholden duty of these businesses to stuff into eco-sensitive zones vanfuls of tourists who pay stiff fees to enjoy intimate encounters with the big cats and who, sadly, almost always miss the forest for the trees and other joys that the forest doubtless offers. What makes this any more than trophy hunting, albeit in a modern sense?
Among the most recent views, aired by a columnist in OPEN magazine (known otherwise for its fairly balanced coverage) makes a claim that stuns with its nuanced idiocy:
“The health of tigers is clearly in no danger from tourism… Wildlife tourists love tigers, and they are earnest reporters of any suspicious activity they spot in these parks.”
And he goes on to say:
“…and the animals here have gotten so used to human presence that they remain oblivious to tourist vehicles and cameras as they go about their lives, prowling, hunting and mating.”
Fascinating analysis. And I’m sure tigers have also benefited vastly from the literacy programme that has helped them read the identity tags that humans wear, particularly the ones that say, in bold letters, in three different languages: “DANGEROUS POACHER” and “ANNOYING BUT HARMLESS TOURIST”.
What if the badges were interchanged, just for fun?