On July 29th the world celebrates International Tiger Day for the 7th year. As all most of these recurrences, it’s a bitter-sweet reminder of our flawed relationship with wildlife. On one hand, we celebrate the beauty of nature and one of the most admired animals in the world, an animal which has come to incarnate powerful myths throughout the history of humankind. On the other hand, we are reminded of their impending extinction, caused by us, of course.
Since the dawn of civilization the tiger has had a central role in all Asian cultures. In Nepalese mythology she is the symbol of unlimited power that protects virtue against evil. In Chinese folklore, the tiger represent the masculine power, the good king that protects good men against evil. In more modern times, we have Shere Khan, Tony the Tiger and Tigger.
According to recent data, the total tiger population is 3,890 animals around the world. Last year for the first time in a century that number has increased thanks to the efforts to protect them and conserve their habitat. However, that was just the first step in a long way towards recovery for this species. The main threats to tigers have not been eliminated, the battle for the survival of the tigers continues and, given the nature of the dangers, it must involve a variety of subjects to be effective.
Loss of Habitat
Tiger are losing their natural habitat as forests are destroyed to make space for human activities such as agriculture and new settlements. The booming Asian economy has also brought about a significant expansion of Asian infrastructure, as a consequence new roads have been built and they split up the tiger territories making more difficult for them to hunt their prey and mate.
The WWF has been particularly active to preserve these fragile habitats. Employing the most advanced scientific tool and research, they have been focusing their efforts on areas where the density of prey and tigers is the highest. Tiger corridors that link several sites are an important part of their project. Another essential part of the solution is the education of local communities in the preservation work. Since 2002, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has established a community outreach program in the Sundarbarns region. The aim is to educate villagers living around the Tiger Reserve to view wildlife and their environment as an asset rather than a threat and to get involved in the efforts to preserve it.
Poaching is the most immediate threat for tigers. One third of tiger deaths is caused by poachers. Just a few days ago Indian conservationists have sounded the alarm of a rising number of tiger deaths this year. They are killed for trophy hunting or for commercial use because their body parts are ingredients of popular remedies in Chinese medicine. In India, penalties for poachers have been enacted since 1972, but most of the cases brought to court are still pending. The illegal trade of tiger parts is now widespread and controlled by organized crime. A tiger can be killed for as little as just over a dollar for the cost of poison, or $9 for a steel trap. Much of the tiger poaching is done by locals who know their territory. Those hunters are usually paid a very small amount (in 1994, a trader paid four poachers $15 each for killing a tiger, it is the traders and the middlemen who make substantial profits from the illegal trade in tiger parts. That’s another reason why it is crucial to educate local communities to the value of their habitat.
Climate change is also a factor that is going to affect the loss of territory for the Indian tiger. According to a study by the WWF, in Sundarbarns, one of the largest tiger reserves , the sea level is projected to rise about a foot by 2070 and as a result it could significantly reduce the tiger habitat in that region.
How responsible tourism can help preserve tiger’s habitat
Because of its impact on natural habitat, tourism has its share of responsibility in the increasing difficulties faced by wildlife and endangered species. For example, avoid at all costs tours where animals are manhandled and kept in cages to show to tourists, animals should live free in their territory.
However, tourism can also be part of the solution. It can promote international awareness of the threats to wildlife, there is nothing better than being close to a problem to know it. And eco-conscious travelers can bring back that knowledge back home and inspire others to help the cause. Responsible tourism also helps local communities to understand the value of the natural resources and wildlife of their territory. As in the case of the tigers sometimes it is a love-hate relationship or a relationship based on past natural equilibrium that has been forever lost with the technological advances of the human civilization. That’s why when traveling for wildlife sightseeing it is crucial to choose carefully the destination and the local guides.
Where to stay
Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge and Kanha Jungle Lodge are two Indian eco-resorts that are actively engaged in the protection of tigers. All their wildlife tours are accompanied by a resident naturalist who helps the guests to understand the surrounding eco-system and introduces them to the local communities and culture.
On the shore on the Maasal lake and next to the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, the Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge also offers an immersive experience in the opulent nature of the region, while striving to maintain the balance with surrounding habitat and raising awareness on its delicate balance.
Scented with cinnamon, cardamom and wildflowers, the slopes of the Periyar region are one of the tiger favorite habitats. And that’s exactly where The Spice Village is located. Inspired by mountain tribal villages of the Cardamom Hills that have perfected a gentle codependence with the surrounding wildlife, the resort has been designed for modern travelers who are looking to discover a timeless corner of the world while helping to preserve it.