No plan to stop tiger tourism says India

Experts say well-managed tourism is one of the best ways to ensure the endangered big cat's survival.

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NEW DELHI // India's environment minister yesterday denied reports that the government was planning to phase out tourism in the country's world famous tiger reserves. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world travel to India every year to catch a glimpse of a Bengal tiger, one of the world's most endangered species, and a ban would have dealt a heavy blow to the country's tourism industry.

Jairam Ramesh, India's minister for the environment and forests, said: "Our policy is to develop a set of guidelines for eco-tourism where tourism takes place in a sustainable way, linked to the carrying capacity of the reserves. We are not at all interested in stopping tiger tourism." Last week, the Times of London reported that the National Tiger Conservation Authority was planning to phase out tourism in the core area of India's tiger reserves because large numbers of visitors were destroying the cat's habitat and driving away prey.

Six of India's 37 tiger reserves are open to tourists and the core areas offer the best chance of sighting one of these elusive animals. The report sent shockwaves though India's high-end tourism industry and many experts spoke out against such a ban, saying that well-managed tourism is one of the best ways to ensure the big cat's survival. India's tiger population has plummeted in recent years as a result of poaching and loss of habitat.

A census in February 2008 showed India's tiger population had dropped to 1,411 from 3,642 in 2002. Some experts say there may be as few as 800 wild tigers left in India and that the species could be extinct in five years. Mr Ramesh said that tourism at some reserves needed to be better regulated but that revenues generated from visitors meant that the local communities were invested in the animal's long term survival.

"Tourism is the only way to generate revenue for the local community," Mr Ramesh said. "We have no intention of stopping tourism."