The World Economic Forum’s latest analytics recognizes that India is ranked 6th for its number of natural World Heritage sites. Yet, the attractiveness of its overall natural assets is a disappointing 113th. A ‘gap’ that ensures that tourism, a critical conservation tool is not prioritized by governments or supported significantly by private enterprises. Even though it’s one of the 5T’s in the government’s own National Development Strategy. Worse than this is the fact that this same report rates India’s environmental sustainability in Travel and Tourism at 134th in the world, with only Kuwait and a war-torn Yemen below it. This is an unexpected place for a significant powerhouse to find itself. It highlights the reason why nature tourism charity TOFTigers campaigns so hard on sustainability in this sector.
Despite these negative statistics, nature tourism is winning a fight, even if we haven’t yet won the war. Nature-based travel is turning the tide on wildlife conservation and on the tiger’s survival across South Asia. From a low of 1,400 wild tigers in a few denuded reserves at the turn of this century, we now officially have over 2,400 wild tigers in India. The numbers are growing in Nepal too. But we are, in fact, saving much more than a single species. World Wildlife Fund, WWF calculates that 830 million people depend on the water that tiger range forests release in Asia.
Forests help to mitigate the very worrying effects of climate change on the subcontinent. If we save tigers, we save whole ecosystems. We’ll save millions of species and also a host of other essential nature-based services for hundreds of millions of both urban and rural peoples. These services include essential medicines, critical food sources and the quality of the air we breathe. Besides our very own physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing.
New livelihoods and Economic Opportunities for Rural Communities
This new rural green economy is giving new livelihoods and new economic opportunities for once poor rural communities bordering these forests, decreasing rural poverty, enhancing living standards and raising local educational standards, as a new research report that TOFTigers funded highlights. Visitors in parks deter poachers, woodchoppers and illegal grazers and brings the spotlight on a host of magnificent and invaluable wildlife and wildlands that few people cared about even a few years ago. Opening up wildlife parks has also brought exciting nature experiences to millions of domestic and overseas visitors. Enabling many to become passionate local advocates for conservation and protection.
You can join in this rising tide of hope and success, by nominating a great reserve or park you’ve enjoyed. A unique nature guide or knowledgeable naturalist you’ve been with. A spectacular ecolodge you stayed at or a groundbreaking community project you’ve seen. We are looking for the ‘best of the best’. A person, place or enterprise that represents where we all need to go, great examples to follow that ensure wilderness survives. And wildlife can once again flourish across South Asia, for everyone’s benefit.
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