Green Minute News:

Even today, tigers attract the most tourists to national parks and sanctuaries across the country. People came to watch tigers, the charismatic apex predators and other large mammals in its absence followed by landscapes, birds and mammals. A recent research study examined the viewing preferences of 516 tourists visiting three popular national parks in India: Bandipur (Karnataka), Kanha (Madhya Pradesh) and Sundarbans (West Bengal).

Each of these PAs is visited by more than 100,000 tourists every year. The study was carried out in 2021 after the first wave of the pandemic had ended and before the second wave started. The study “Influence of charismatic species and conservation engagement on the nature-viewing preferences of wildlife tourists” appears in the Journal – Tourism Recreation Research.

While tigers attract tourists to Kanha, tiger sightings are relatively infrequent on safaris in Bandipur and Sundarbans, indicating that not all popular PAs require charismatic species to sustain tourism. The most common reason for visiting Bandipur was travel convenience. Bandipur is contiguous with many other PAs in the same state and neighbouring states and there are two national highways passing through the forest. Infrastructure and accessibility can have tremendous positive influence on visitation.

Scientists found that across these parks, large mammals especially tigers were the most preferred to view, followed by landscapes, birds, and small- and medium-sized mammals. Plants and herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) were the least preferred group. However, these choices were driven by factors such as gender, age and whether or not a tourist engaged in conservation.

For example, tourists over 36 years of age were less likely to be interested in viewing herpeto-fauna. However, those who were below 36 years and who had also supported or been part of conservation were more likely to be interested in viewing herpeto-fauna than those who were not involved in conservation and tourists above 36 years of age. The study suggests that in addition to wildlife, many more factors come into play while tourists select a park.

For instance, tourists cited convenience of travel as a reason for their choice. So, lead author Dincy Mariyam, explains, “People would have chosen to go to locations nearer their homes once the initial pandemic wave subsided but with a few restrictions still in place. The alternative explanation to consider would be to investigate the impact of infrastructure and park accessibility. Tourists are able to visit more places during a single trip as several Indian park networks are well connected by roads.”

The authors suggest that parks that attract a large number of domestic tourists and first-timers can seize the opportunity to draw attention to lesser-known wildlife. This could be achieved by providing tourists the opportunity to participate in conservation-related activities such as volunteering in a conservation project, providing financial and in-kind support.

However, proper management must be implemented to minimize the negative impacts of increased tourism traffic and infrastructure. Recreational experiences can be diversified through well-curated and engaging interpretation centres, nature walks with a trained naturalist/guide and supporting local art and culture.

“Tourism provides a huge opportunity to engage the wider public and create new livelihood opportunities for people living close to wildlife. We need to develop a wider diversity of visitor experiences to make this fun and cater to a multitude of interests beyond tigers,” says Krithi K. Karanth, a co-author.

The authors of this study are Dincy Mariyam, Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan and Krithi K. Karanth. The study was supported by Rufford Foundation, IDEA Wild, Indian Council of Social Science Research, and the Centre for Wildlife Studies.