Wildlife Tourism – New Study, New Revelations

Wildlife tourism has averaged 15% growth in India, mirroring many countries. This growth is reflected in the increase in visitors to many Indian protected areas. Krithi K. KaranthRuth DeFriesArjun Srivathsa and Vishnupriya Sankaraman examine the attitudes and perceptions of visitors to three of India’s most popular and well known National Parks and Tiger Reserves, namely Nagarahole, Kanha and Ranthambore.

These are the highlights of their study from a forthcoming paper in the journal Oryx.

  • Wildlife tourism is growing at 15% annually in parks.
  • Over 70% of visitors are Indian.
  • The majority of tourists are on their first visit, spend an average $600 on their visit and stay for less than a week.
  • Tourists visit to see nature, tigers and appreciate the scenic beauty of these parks.
  • Many tourists (71%) are willing to re-visit these parks but tourists to Ranthambore and Kanha say that tiger sightings are a must.
  • Tourists are willing to pay more — in the form of higher entry fees.
  • Tourists believe that local people benefit from wildlife tourism.
  • Tourists indicated that parks need to be managed better by the Forest Department.

Study Sites

Three parks were selected across India- Nagarahole, Kanha and Ranthambore -where visitor numbers vary from 74,000 to 154,000 people per year. These parks are among India’s premier tiger viewing destinations.

Methods

In 2010, interviews were conducted with 436 visitors to these parks.

The Results

  • Wildlife tourism in India and in these parks has seen growth from less than 10,000 people per year to more than 170,000 people per year over a 15-year period.
  • Many tourists (71%) were first time visitors to these parks but had participated in wildlife tours elsewhere.
  • Visitors were well educated (52% with bachelor’s degrees and 30% with post-graduate degrees) and spent an average of US $600, staying for up to a week.
  • People visited these parks to see nature, view tigers and appreciate scenic beauty.
  • Visitors best experiences were good wildlife sightings in all parks.
  • Common complaints were too many vehicles and poorly trained drivers and guides.
  • Many tourists (71%) are likely to revisit the same parks but tourists in Ranthambore and Kanha were more tiger-centric and less likely to visit if tigers were to go extinct.
  • Tourists were aware of gate fees and many were willing to pay higher gate fees.
  • Tourists visiting Ranthambore and Kanha, perceived more benefits to local people compared to tourists in Nagarahole.
  • Many (80%) tourists were not happy with the Forest Departments’ park and tourism management efforts.
  • Tourist suggestions include improving the entry process, limiting the number of vehicles and improving vehicle safety.
  • Visitors also recommended educating tourists and monitoring other tourists’ behavior and better training for guides and drivers.
  • Other suggestions include increasing patrolling efforts and employing more locals.

Observation

Tourists have a critical role to play in India as wildlife tourism continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Visitors’ concern and interest in Indian wildlife and parks along with financial prowess can become a boon or death knell for conservation. There is a critical need to encourage visitors to behave better inside parks (noise, clothing, trash), and respect the environment they are in. Interest in tigers is wonderful, but obsession with a single species can do serious harm to the other wildlife and wild places we are trying to conserve.

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