Skip to main content

Indian Supreme Court places temporary ban on tiger tourism

By Molly Gray, for CNN
July 25, 2012 -- Updated 1857 GMT (0257 HKT)
The Supreme Court of India has banned tourism in tiger parks such as this one in Rajasthan, India.
The Supreme Court of India has banned tourism in tiger parks such as this one in Rajasthan, India.
  • India's Supreme Court has temporarily banned ecotourism in the country's tiger parks
  • Environmentalists says the tourism has hurt the tigers' ability to reproduce
  • Those in the tourism industry say the state needs to better regulate the parks
  • Animal rights activists believe poaching could increase if tourists leave the parks

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Tourism destinations deep inside India's tiger parks will be closed indefinitely after the Supreme Court of India imposed an interim ban on all tourism activities in core areas of tiger forests.

"(Until) final directions of the court, core areas in tiger reserves will not be used for tourism activities," the court said in the order issued Tuesday, according to a report by the Times of India.

The decision also imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees ($178) on six states that did not comply with the court's previous decision in April, which required that all states must identify core zones and buffer zones of their tiger reserves as part of a rolling effort to regulate where tourist attractions can be located.

India is home to the world's largest population of tigers -- 1,706 of them -- according to the World Wildlife Fund. That number has dropped from more than 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century due to poaching and habitat encroachment.

Read more: Photographer documents trafficking of endangered animals

Fashion mogul changes stripes for tigers
Khloe Kardashian saves wild tigers

There are 40 tiger reserves across the country, according to the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India. Tiger reserves are set up throughout India to provide a protected environment for animals still in the wild. Resorts and villages were set up for tourists, local as well as foreign, to see the tiger habitats and perhaps catch a glimpse of the big cat.

Now the future of tiger tourism is in question.

The ban is in place while the court considers a claim filed by a local environmentalist alleging that ecotourism was hurting the habitat and breeding grounds of the endangered species. The court is expected to release its final ruling on August 22.

Ecotourism promises to bring travelers closer to nature with minimum environmental impact. The court is investigating whether tourism in India's tiger parks is in fact low impact.

Read more: Which is safest country for animals?

Toby Sinclair, vice president for the Ecotourism Society of India, told CNN he believes the government is allowing too many visitors into the parks.

"The eco in ecotourism has changed to economy," Sinclair said.

Last April the court ruled that all states must identify core zones and buffer zones of their tiger parks as part of a rolling effort to regulate where tourist attractions can be located, according to the Times of India report.

Tourist resorts and villages are to be located only in the buffer zones of parks. States are reluctant to identify buffer zones, however, for fear it will displace existing resorts, the Times reported.

Sinclair, however, doesn't think buffer zones will solve the problems.

"Buffer zones are a step toward the solution," Sinclair said. "But the question remains 'Who is going to manage the buffer zones?'"

Video: Meet India's tiger hunters

Wildlife enthusiast and photographer Shashanka Nanda of New Delhi, who has taken part in dozens of safaris in the past few years told CNN he believes that while the court's heart is in the right place, its approach is flawed.

"Responsible and regulated tourism forges a human connection to wildlife. Just seeing tigers in textbooks won't affect people to change," he said. "If you stop tourists and enthusiasts, you're losing half the battle of wildlife conservation," he added.

Nanda also argues that responsible tourism enforces a system of accountability. The presence of undesired elements like poachers gets noticed, he said.

The decision is not expected to have major immediate impact on tourism as many tiger reserves are closed during the monsoon. If the ban remains in place, however, it is expected to have a significant impact on the livelihoods of communities in and around the reserves whose income depends on wildlife tourism.

CNN's Sumit Galhotra contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.