Tell us more about the work that you do and how it helps support front-line conservation efforts.
My charity’s aim was to simply get India’s forest departments to take a handle on nature tourism, plan it better, allow visitors to get real insight into its extraordinary wildlife and wilderness and ensure that the money travellers paid to enjoy it went back to supporting wildlife protection and bordering communities. Oh how naive I was! Sadly nothing is that simple, and what I discovered was a system that was unwilling and unable to change, and in fact wanted to close down the entire nature tourism industry in 2012, rather than engage with it to effect more sustainable ways to undertake what is still one of the basic tenements of any park’s creation, an opportunity to educate, study, recreate and spiritually connect with nature.
What do you consider to be the greatest threats to the future of tigers in India?
Mankind is its greatest threat. Too many people with too little space left for natural processes to exist. Tigers will survive in small pockets across India, heavily managed, and with a poor prey basis. Poaching is often seen as its biggest threat - but the reality is that a lack of prey is probably a larger factor in its ultimate survival, killed often to feed a little reported bushmeat trade (also poaching!) together with large enough natural habitat to ensure sustained genetically diverse populations can continue to exist.
How can tourism help the protection and conservation of tigers in India?
As a traveller today to India, your safari is critical – but the very best hope to ensure your travels are ‘tiger friendly’ is to use only PUG approved lodges – look for the PUG kitemark – because they have been given a thorough assessment of their operations and sustainability and you can rest assured that your travels are being beneficial to your destinations ongoing conservation efforts rather than detrimental to them.Tourism is probably the only reason that tigers will survive in tiger range states in the long term. Its unique ability to ensure a sustained economic benefit from live wild tigers - instead of dead ones - ensures benefits for park revenues and protection from visitor park fees, more taxes and revenue for state Governments, more jobs and opportunities for local communities and enjoyment and fulfillment for visitors, ensuring everyone can be happy to have wild tigers remaining in their forests. Today nature tourism is producing up to 4 times more revenue for parks than is given by governments to their protection, but also keeps more eyes and ears to the ground and in the field, ensure greater accountability from its managers, greater public support for its efforts and less chance that it can be open to mining, roads, poaching, tree felling and over grazing than landscapes that do not have visitors. One tigress in Ranthambore we calculated to have earned over £101 million in a decade in revenue to parks, government, businesses and local communities around the park. However, much tourism in India is poor, badly planned, badly designed and badly managed, and much of the potential benefits are lost, so TOFTigers has been calling for a radical reappraisal of how it plans and operates wildlife tourism in the coming decade, using the many and wonderful examples that are already plain to see in small patches of India, but increasingly inside and outside parks across Africa, south and central America, where tourism is a critical tool in a Field Director’s toolbox.