Why tourism is vital to the survival of tigers

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Picnic with Tigers

This Saturday, Oxford Brookes University is hosting Picnic with Tigers, a free family event exploring how we can protect and expand our remaining tiger populations.

Stewart Thompson, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation in Biological and Medical Sciences, will give a talk on how current protection mechanisms are not working and how urgent new conservation approaches are needed. Afterwards, there will be an opportunity to dress up as a tiger, have a picnic in the John Henry Brookes Building and listen to a reading of The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

In a recent article for the Oxford Mail, Stewart explained why tiger tourism is vital to their survival:

Most of us are aware that for a host of inter-related reasons, tigers are in trouble. Globally their numbers continue to decline and although there has been a recent upturn in their numbers in India, their fate hangs in the balance. Today, wildlife conservation has moved away from a species-centred to a landscape or ecosystem approach. Modern tiger conservation centres around the identification, maintenance and protection of ‘Tiger Conservation Units’ or ‘Critical Tiger Habitat’ with observers nothing that accurate surveying techniques for tigers, their co-predators and their prey are urgently required in those areas currently managed for tigers. Part of my work then, is to try and address this problem by monitoring tigers in protected areas and look further ahead to see what we might do in order to try and reverse the difficult situation they find themselves in. 

Stewart Thompson

With that in mind for the last ten years I have been visiting Ranthambhore tiger reserve with groups of students to monitor aspects of tiger biology and their conservation.  Ranthambhore is often cited as one of the best places in the world to go and see wild tigers and indeed other “must see” species such as leopard, striped hyena and sloth bear. A problem exists in that to date, there is very little agreement as to their actual number and distribution patterns.  In order to address this problem, with a colleague at WildKnowledge® we have developed a suite of real-time wildlife recording software, specifically designed for field-based wildlife surveys.  I then take students into the Park to use the software to obtain first-hand experience of wildlife survey techniques.  

On a much more personal note, the high levels of visitor pressure awakened in me an interest to view the reserve not as a conservation biologist, but from the perspective of the people who actually deliver tiger tourism.  Ranthambhore directly employs many hundreds of people and there are thousands who rely indirectly upon tiger tourism for their livelihood.  Tiger tourism is a multi-million dollar industry that clearly is of major economic and social importance and yet there is growing opposition to it.  For many observers, including myself, the removal of tiger tourism will be their death knell so developing an understanding of tourism impacts to both tigers and humans is vital if tigers are to have a chance of survival into the 21st century.  We are therefore currently looking at ways in which our software can be adapted to underpin a citizen science approach to tiger conservation in Ranthambhore and beyond.

The full article was published in the Oxford Mail on Tuesday 8 March 2016. 

Picnic with Tigers takes place this Saturday (19 March) 11.00am – 1.00pm in the John Henry Brookes Lecture Theatre and afterwards in the Forum, Headington Campus.