Tiger Tourism can help save tigers – but only if it’s done responsibly.
Many travellers describe their first glimpse of a wild tiger as a deeply emotional experience, perhaps rooted in the sense of discovering something precious which may soon be lost. It’s not a surprising reaction. Wild tigers are extremely rare, with only around 3000 now left living in their natural habitats worldwide. To put this into context, that’s less than the number in captivity in the USA alone. Hunted for their pelts, poached for medicinal body parts and threatened by the deforestation and development of their forest homes, man’s impact on wild tiger populations has been disastrous. But responsible tourism could hold the key to helping the tiger fight back. How? Our friends Responsibletravel.com’s new 2 minute guide to Tiger Safaris explains.
Not a problem of the past as one might image, but a thriving Traditional Medicine Trade is one of the key threats facing wild tigers today, with poachers earning huge sums of money for each tiger caught and sold. Exacerbated by underlying issues of poverty and inequality in their native countries, these magnificent creatures are currently worth more as a remedy for impotence or acne. This is where responsible tourism can step in. Involving local communities, ensuring they see the economic benefits of tiger tourism, gives a much greater value to keeping the animals alive. Equally it makes conserving and protecting forest habitats more valuable than clearing them for logging or plantations. Responsible tourism becomes vital in helping to protect wild tigers – but what can concerned travellers do to ensure they are supporting these ideals?
What can I do?
In the first instance tourists should look for a responsible tour operator. We recommend asking questions, lots of them to unearth those with a clear commitment to local communities and conservation. All tiger safaris listed on responsibletravel.com have already been screened against our criteria for responsible tourism and are a good place to start. Another great resource is the Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) website which leads campaigns for responsible tiger tourism and rates lodges and accommodations in India’s tiger regions. Homestay opportunities are one way in which tourists can ensure money from their visit ends up directly in local people’s hands. And not only do homestays support local people, they offer travellers a unique insight into everyday life – to taste real home-cooked food and a chance to learn about the culture, traditions and lifestyle on which neighbouring tiger reserves are so dependent.
Alongside ensuring their visit supports local people, travellers should be aware of how much their presence is supporting ongoing conservation initiatives. Is any money from your tour going directly to conservation NGOs? Does your tour operator participate in any monitoring or support any anti-poaching schemes? In India an innovative project put in place by Tiger Nation encourages tourists to upload their photos and videos via social media, getting immediate identification information and adding it instantly to a growing scientific database to monitor tiger populations. It’s cutting-edge people-powered conservation.
Why Tiger Temple is No Sanctuary for Tigers
With wild tiger sightings hard to come by, and tiger safaris themselves requiring significant holiday finances, the draw of seeing these animals in captive facilities is perhaps understandable. But however much you would love to see a tiger, a love for tigers has to come first. There are many places where tiger welfare takes a back seat to photo opportunities and profits, and tourists need to know how to differentiate between sanctuaries doing key conservation work and those which are exploiting their animals.
Responsbiletravel.com, for example, will not accept any holidays onto its site which include visits to Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery otherwise known as the ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, after consultation with Care for the Wild International. We share their concerns about the welfare of the tigers at the facility and are worried that the temple makes no discernible contribution to tiger conservation. More information can be found in this article. We encourage travellers to avoid any sanctuary which allows for hands-on animal contact for photo opportunities, or which encourages their animals to perform tricks or engage in unnatural behaviour, so do research any captive facility carefully before choosing to visit.
To find a responsible tiger safari which supports conservation and communities read responsibletravel.com’s new 2 minute guide
Read Care for the Wild’s Tiger Temple – Temple of Lies report