Tigers seriously stressed by armies of camera carrying tourists in tiger reserves

It has been known for a long time, but a study confirmed that tigers don't like the presence of tourists. The stress levels, as measured by the amount of stress hormones in faeces, are such that it can be a barrier to mating and breeding thereby seriously undermining conservation efforts.
"Tourists can both promote conservation and damage it." - Michael
Tourist vehicles near a tiger at Sariska Tiger Reserve
Tourist vehicles near a tiger at Sariska Tiger Reserve. Photo by Subhadeep Bhattacharjee

The tiger is on its knees in terms of conservation, so this is important. Tourism helps to fund the reserves. Almost all Bengal tigers are in India's tiger reserves nowadays. It is a tricky problem to crack.

But the study ('Physiological stress responses of tigers due to anthropogenic disturbance especially tourism in two central Indian tiger reserves'. Conservation Physiology) calls into question the modus operandi of the tiger project conservation program.

Tigers in reserves are great money spinners. One tiger is said to be worth $750,000 in terms of tourism income. And good tourist numbers to a specific reserve helps build a reputation as a reserve where tigers can be seen.

In some reserves tiger numbers are so low a tourist will be lucky to see a tiger. Not good if you have spent thousands of dollars to see one. How to strike a balance between capitalism and conservation?

Perhaps the problem is the number of tourists. Vehicle numbers are limited.

However, we often see tiger reserves heavily populated by vehicular traffic weighed down by tourists and their cameras. They are in search of that elusive tiger who is trying to avoid them.

The finding that tourists stress tigers and impinge upon their way of life to an extent which can impair their breeding, has implications for the management of reserves and conservation.

Sloppy enforcement

Apparently, 40 vehicles maximum per day are recommended by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. This limit is being frequently ignored. For example, Kanha Tiger Reserve allows an average of 106 vehicles per day.

And the core area of a reserve where tigers are presumably most present, should, ideally, be devoid of tourist although there should be a maximum of 20% usage of this core area by tourism. It appears that this limit is also being flouted.

The study found that BandhavgarhTiger Reserve accepted an average of 85 vehicles per day.

An expert said that "Stress plays a pivotal role in the ecology of wildlife species....For example, human-induced disturbances can cause significant changes across the brain-endocrine-tissue pathways leading to over-expression of the stress biomarker (cortisol). Cortisol can have life-long significant negative impact on all aspects of wildlife ecology including growth and development, maturation, reproductive fitness, behaviour and survival."

American parks - same sort of problem

This biomarker increased as the level of disturbance and the number of vehicles increased. I have just written about another study concerning American national parks in which there is also this difficult balance to strike between allowing tourists and recreationists to enter these parks while also allowing the wildlife living there to be as undisturbed as possible.

That study found that even small numbers of people within the habitat of wildlife in these beautiful places can disturb them significantly. Ironically, tourists in search of pictures of wild animals scare the animals away which makes it harder for them to achieve their goal.

It's the same problem and there needs to be, it seems to me, a rethink on how this human-animal interaction takes place. 


One solution for the American parks is to confine more tourists to set spaces within the park while barring them from other areas completely.

As for the India tiger reserves, there needs to be much better enforcement of vehicle number limits and even a reduction on those limits.


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