Jess, one of our India Consultants, recently went to central India to see its wildlife and discovered how tourism can help protect the natural environment.
The national parks in India are young, the most recent addition being Kanha, which was only created in 1955. They vary in size, typography and vegetation but each one’s primary objective is to protect the abundant wildlife from India’s ever increasing population.
These National Parks boast up to 250 different species of bird. Thousands of deer, reptiles, rodents, bears and leopards but the park’s main priority is, of course the protection and growth of their ever dwindling tiger population. Over the years tiger populations have suffered from poaching and destruction of their natural habitat. With only 3,200 tigers left in the wild the world is beginning to take notice and more and more is being done to ensure the protection and growth of the population.
My most recent trip to India not only yielded my first ever sighting of a tiger in the wild, but also opened my eyes to the conservation efforts happening in the tourist sector, and how the simple act of tourism can change the face of conservation. One eco-lodge and one luxury camp caught my interest in particular, not only because of the work their owners were both doing to protect and expand the national parks, but also because the unique settings and exclusive experience each place can offer.
The park I visited first, Panna, was first declared a tiger reserve in 1994, and by 2009 the National Park Department had to admit that their tiger population had been entirely wiped out by poachers. Tigers were reintroduced from Bandhavgarh and Kanha and have since been hugely successful in the area, now numbering 20 tigers from the last monsoon count. An important genetic pool was wiped out, however, and the locals are only too aware that the tigers need careful monitoring if they are to thrive.
I arrived in Panna buffer zone to be greeted by Joanna and Raghu, owners of Sarai at Toria, who have dedicated years to raising awareness of tiger poaching and loss of habitat within their beloved national park. 542.67 square kilometers of beautiful grasslands, dramatic rocky ridges, and the lazily winding river Ken – it is an awesome sight and without a doubt the most scenic national park I saw. As the reintroduced population of tigers is small and the jeeps are only allowed in 20% of the whole reserve, sightings of tigers are rare but the park has so much more to give.
The Eco Lodge, Sarai at Toria, is perched on the edge of the Ken River, nestled in the wild grasses on the bank. Every morning you can rise early and take a morning boat ride with the resident naturalist to spot the birdlife and wildlife in the river, and in the afternoon you can disappear into the Park. The lodge is made up of 8 beautiful cottages each designed in an environmentally friendly fashion, fabricated in mud, with thatched roofs and – just as importantly – the food is delicious!
Sitting and listening to Joanna and Raghu speak of their conservationist struggle over the last decade, you realise how vital the tourism industry is as a conservationist tool: vital to help save Asia’s forests and wildlife. Many of these beautiful lodges are set up in the borderlands of the National Parks and their guests who visit the park daily are a natural deterrent to poachers. Another important thing Raghu and Joanna have done is to buy up vast amounts of land in the area around them to prevent it going to farm land. As it is often animals that threaten farmers livelihoods or families that are in danger.
Jamtara Wildlife Lodge, further South in Pench National Park, is another fantastic example of how tourism can help to save the environment. Amit who opened the camp in 2014 is a passionate conservationist. His Grandfather was the first Director of Project Tiger, which created Tiger Reserves in the 1970s and was awarded the Civilian Award by the president for his efforts. Amit, following in his Grandfathers footsteps, has created Jamtara Wilderness Camp, a beautiful, luxury tented camp with a twist.
The main attraction at the camp is the ‘star bed’. Although this beautiful wooden bed – created to look like one of the farmer’s machaans, with nothing to protect from the elements but a mosquito net – is a wonderfully romantic notion, it also has another purpose entirely. The camp is located on the border of the National Park, in a strip of arable land which divides the jungle of the border lands and the National Park itself. The guests who stay overnight witness the movement of wildlife between the two strips of jungle and by recording what they see they’re helping Amit in his most recent mission – to highlight the displacement of wildlife by arable farming. Amit is hoping that the popularity of his unique and fabulous star bed will lead to more in the area, and his diligent documentation of animals moving through the arable strip will help to persuade the authorities that this land should be part of the national park as well.
If you are interested in the preservation of not only tigers, but the wildlife and National Parks in India then go and see them! Spend that little bit extra to go to a lodge that has a good reputation for responsible tourism and not only will you leave having witnessed some of the most astonishing wildlife the world has to offer, but you will have also contributed to the protection of it.
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