1 Tahrcountry Musings: A guest post

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A guest post

Here is a guest post from Ramesh, my friend

Perils of unbridled Ecotourism

I was in Eravikualm National Park recently,just before the closure of the park, after a gap of 15 years. Sea changes have occurred there. Community participation in conservation has taken strong roots and the community obviously benefits from tourism.  But I was a little bit peeved by the overkill in terms of opening up areas for ecotourism. Remember, Eravikualm is the abode of Nigiri tahr, one of the most endangered animals in the world. Any activity that is taken up should not have any negative impact on Nilgiri tahr.

Ecotourism is increasingly being marketed in our wildlife reserves as a panacea for all ills affecting the parks. This does not augur well for conservation. Ecotourism isn’t always a win-win situation for nature and local people. We must always be on the guard against the deleterious effects of ecotourism.
The main disadvantages in wildlife reserves are

1) Crowding by visitors
2) Overuse and ensuing soil erosion
3) Disturbance to wildlife
4) Noise pollution

 Biologist Henrik Brumm of the Free University of Berlin has found that male territorial nightingales in Berlin had to sing five times as loud in an area of heavy traffic. Henrik is sure that this could be affecting their vocal musculature and he wonders what is going to happen in future if the noise levels keep going up. I shudder to think about the implications.

International Journal of Primatology sometime back reported that tourism was causing changes in primate behaviour and could be a causing infant mortality. This report was the result of a 19-year study, “Primate Tourism, Range Restriction and Infant Risk Among Macaca thibetana at Mt. Huangshan, China,” led by anthropologist Carol Berman of University of Buffalo.

Disease transmission from human beings is another great risk. Scientists in the Chobe National Park, Botswana, have documented how tuberculosis was passed on to mongooses which led to two outbreaks of the disease in the Park. Mongooses picked up the illness from contaminated rubbish heaps left in the Park by the tourists.

Deliberate feeding of food to wildlife is an activity rife with problems. This tends to alter natural behaviour patterns of the denizens of the wild. We have clearly seen in many areas what dependency of monkeys on the human provided food can do to the animals and the nuisance it creates for us. In the mad rush to obtain food the animals sometimes harms one another. I remember one of my friends telling me about one tourist trying to feed Nilgiri tahr with IJ (Indian junk, a term used by foreigners for the Indian fast food item, mixture). The incident occurred a few years back

I remember Mohanji once telling me how stress by visitors brings in energetic demands on animals which in turn affect their capacity to breed. This energetic demand could have more impact than poaching on animals.

Another danger of over-dependence on ecotourism is that public funds for supporting nature conservation may be reduced and this could negatively impact nature conservation in the long run.

Ecotourism is fine but it has to be practised judiciously if it is to benefit our wildlife.

Tailpiece: My visit to Eravikualm threw up this question? What has happened to all the officers trained in wildlife management? They are obviously an endangered lot.


Philip Thomas said...

What is needed for Munnar is a holistic policy when it comes to litter. Eravikulam may be clean, but look outside and you see mountains of garbage. Departments, panchayath, and Kannan Devan company tries to pass the buck, blaming each other. Entry to Munnar should be based on a well planned carrying capacity study

Anonymous said...

The whole idea of declaring an ESA (Ecologically sensitive area) around a Protected Area like Eravikulam is to have a regulatory frame work for activities like tourism. This was ordered by the Supreme Court way back in 2005. Further, the Gadgil committee report on Western Ghats also strongly recommends areas like Munnar to be brought under regulatory frame work of ESA. But unfortunately, our enlightened Goverment of Kerala thinks otherwise!

K.T Thomas, Calicut said...

Ramesh, wildlife trained officers are becoming a rarity in the department. Globalization has taken it toll in wildlife also. Sincerity is at a premium. Untrained guys who "manage" funds allotted are treated as efficient guys. Where is the time for top brass to think about genuine needs of wildlife?

Mind-pen said...

As always, this is not a problem particular to Eravikulam. Ecotourism has a similar effect everywhere. I visited Muthanga in Dec. Tickets for tourists were given on the fly, with adjustments made by the workers themselves. The maximum admittance for the day was long past. I agree that a regulatory framework that is more prohibitive is the modus operandus. With international recognition, there maybe a larger drive to establish the rules, no?!

On the positive I do think awareness in India is increasing, and people are sensitive to different issues in wildlife conservation.