Why safari parks may be a double-edged sword

News Excerpt:

The Supreme Court, on March 6, ordered the setting up of a committee that would suggest ways to repair the ecological damage in the Jim Corbett National Park caused by illegal construction and tree felling.

  • The committee will also look into concerns around tiger safaris in the buffer areas of national parks and issue requisite guidelines.

Who is in the SC-appointed committee?

  • The SC appointed a committee consisting of a representative each from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the Wildlife Institute of India, and the CEC; an officer of the Environment ministry not below the rank of Joint Secretary as its Member Secretary.
  • This committee is tasked with assessing the environmental damage to the Corbett Tiger Reserve, identifying “delinquent officers” from whom the costs for restoration can be recovered, and recommending measures for restoration.
  • The committee will also assess whether tiger safaris can be permitted in the buffer or fringe areas of a national park, and if yes, suggest guidelines for establishing them.
  • The Court outlined key factors that need to be kept in mind for the committee’s recommendations — 
    • The approach must be of ecocentrism and not of anthropocentrism
    • Precautionary principle to ensure that the least amount of environmental damage is caused; 
    • And the need to ensure that animals are not sourced from outside the tiger reserve for safaris.

What is the case concerning Tiger Safari in Pakhrau?

  • The Supreme Court, quoting from the CEC report, listed several irregularities in executing the Pakhrau safari.
  • The CEC report pointed out that a 1.2-km road and culverts were built outside the tiger safari. 
  • At least 12 buildings with four rooms each were built as Forest Rest Houses at Pakhrau, Morghatti, and Kugadda camps without requisite approvals.
  • Inside the safari, the CEC report pointed out the illegal felling of an estimated 6,053 trees when permission was granted for only 163 trees. 
  • While the Ministry of Environment had approved using bamboo for the buildings, the CEC report found concrete structures. 
  • While Rs 28.81 crore was approved, the report found that a sum of Rs 102.11 crore was spent on the construction.

What does a “tiger safari” really mean?

  • Tiger safari is not defined under The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which says “no construction of commercial tourist lodges, hotels, zoos and safari parks shall be undertaken inside a sanctuary except with the prior approval of the National Board” [for Wild Life] constituted under the Act.
  • The concept of a tiger safari in the wild was first envisaged in the Guidelines for Tourism issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2012, which provided for such establishments in the buffer areas of tiger reserves “which experience immense tourist influx in the core/ critical tiger habitat for viewing tigers”.

Why build a tiger safari in a forest?

  • The 2012 NTCA guidelines justified safari parks as a means to lessen the tourism load inside tiger reserves that causes stress on wildlife.
  • Second, many are against packing off animals that are unfit for the wild — they may be injured, orphaned, or given to conflict — to faraway zoos. 
    • Safari parks help hold such animals captive in their natural surroundings.
  • Third, some stakeholders argue that buffer areas were designated to allow activities supporting local communities' livelihood and development needs — and safari parks generate money and local goodwill for the tiger.

What is the counter-argument?

  • Instead of bringing down the number of vehicles crowding around the tiger, opening new safari routes has ended up inviting more tourists.
  • The idea of displaying “rescued” tigers in safari parks is a departure from keeping such distressed animals in non-display facilities. 
    • Even the 2016 guidelines were hesitant to make this policy shift and made it mandatory for NTCA to assess every “recovered/ treated animal” before putting them on display in safari parks.
  • Third, housing local “rescued” wildlife in their natural environment is an idea driven by concerns for animal welfare. 
    • They argue that building safari parks for “rescued” tigers inside tiger reserves prioritises individual tigers' welfare over the species' interest since such establishments are bound to disturb wild habitats.

What is the ground reality of tiger safari in other tiger reserves?

  • The experience in Ranthambhore in Rajasthan raises some cautionary flags
    • In 2015-16, a safari park for rescued tigers was envisaged there to lessen the tourism load and aid local livelihoods. 
    • The project has seen multiple attempts at constructing peripheral walls, which have collapsed repeatedly, necessitating fresh work orders every time.
  • Before the SC recently banned zoo animals, several safari parks inside protected forests stocked a range of zoo collections. 
    • For example, the Nahargarh Biological Park, a part of the Nahargarh sanctuary on the Jaipur-Delhi highway inaugurated in 2016, has Asiatic lions, Royal Bengal tigers, panthers, hyenas, wolves, deer, crocodiles, sloth bears, and Himalayan black bears, among other animals.
    • However, introducing animals in permanent facilities built in the wild invariably creates stress for territorial species — and the resident leopards in Nahargarh often reacted aggressively to the captive ones housed in the safari park.

What is the road ahead for safari parks in tiger reserves?

  • A one-size-fits-all formula is unlikely to be helpful, senior state forest officials cautioned. 
    • The more prudent approach would be to lay down guiding principles for local authorities to find site-specific solutions.
  • Experts also advise against making tiger safari parks a routine feature of tiger reserves. 
    • The 2016 guidelines said that a tiger safari can be proposed only by tiger reserves that have already utilised 100% of their tourist carrying capacity.

Book A Free Counseling Session