19 October 2012 by Alex Stewart
The supreme court in India has declared that the ban on tourism in 40 tiger reserves throughout the country has been overturned.
Although tiger numbers have dwindled over recent decades, around 1,700 tigers still live in India, more than half the world's total population of this rare big cat.
The ban was originally imposed in July of this year in response to a complaint by conservationists that critically endangered tiger habitats were being damaged by human disturbance, including tourism.
As it stands, there are hundreds of hotels and businesses within India's tiger reserves, catering to a large number of tourists drawn by the potential to watch wildlife and spot tigers in their natural environment. These tour and travel operators argued that banning touris would result in an increase in illegal wildlife trafficking, as poachers would thrive without the presenece of tourists.
Whilst lifting the ban, the court announced new rules designed to ensure that tiger tourism continues in harmony with conservationist aims. Reserves must complete a tourism plan based on guidelines drawn up by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. Additionally, in future, just 20% of tiger habitats in india will be accessible by tourists and local governments will be required to regulate visitors. Furthermore, no new tourist facilities or infrastructure can be built in areas where tigers live.
Vishal Singh of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT), a group dedicated to responsible nature tourism, said, 'It's now time to ensure that revenues from park fees start flowing back into conservation and communities again, that livelihoods are restored, and that legitimate businesses are allowed to continue to show India's very best natural heritage to its citizens.'