The TOFTigers campaign started in Ranthambore in Rajasthan 2004 when tigers were down to just 11 individuals and India was in crisis. Their iconic Bengal Tiger was threatened with extinction. 30 years of government funding, Forester efforts and conservation agency support had somehow still failed to turnaround the world’s most iconic and much loved wild cat.
Wonderfully today in 2020, there are 68 wild tigers now in Ranthambore Tiger reserve and the park’s management can now afford to reintroduce their ‘excess’ tigers – because the park is full-back to other parks like Sariska and Mukundara Hills. Meanwhile, others are moving out themselves and occupying new forests like Kota and Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh. Furthermore, the Forest Department now uses the money they are making from the hundreds of excited visitors each day – to protect other parks just like Ranthambore – wildernesses that nobody has even heard of yet – or cared about before.
‘Tigernomics’- The Economics Of Nature-Based Tourism
It’s what I call ‘Tigernomics’, the invaluable economics of nature-based tourism – so often disparaged as ‘Tiger tourism’ – and the sheer power of a tiger’s mysterious attraction to turn around its own future – to be invaluable alive in the wild – rather than dead with its skin laid as a carpet in a rich man’s apartment. It was this critical economic driver, not manifest in the first 30 years of the Government Project Tiger strategy, that has fundamentally helped turn around wild tigers’ fate across South Asia. The proof is in the sanctuaries that have been unwilling or unable to create this economic stimulus for the bordering communities. They have few if any tigers left in their forests!
TOFTigers earlier studies in 2010 have highlighted that a single tigress in Ranthambore generated US$110 million in revenue for parks, people and businesses around the area. More recent TOFTigers funded studies highlight 2500 direct tourism-related jobs, thousands of ancillary jobs and local opportunities, community and family support, better education and better health, and at the same time doubled the parks years’ budget for nature protection and wildlife conflict compensation.
TOFTigers have always believed that when we combine the simple economics of sustainable nature tourism, alongside good wildlife protection, with the hearts and conscience of the millions of visitors, together with the local bordering communities as the beneficiaries and stakeholders in each wild destination – we really can save the tigers, and restore and rewild damaged and denuded landscapes across India and South Asia. We know there is about 300,000 square kilometres of unprotected, unloved forest still in India, and it could harbour far greater biodiversity and more tigers, thousands more, if we can apply the same economic principles to support the bordering communities of these neglected landscapes, as we do with the best-protected areas.
TOFTigers Is About More Than Saving Tigers
However, let me be clear, TOFTigers are not solely about saving tigers. A billion people in India and a myriad of other species, from mammals, to insects to flowers depend on these wild habitats too. These wild landscapes capture and store precious rainwater for the cities and farmers to use, their forests clear the increasingly polluted air; these forests provide food, produce and shelter materials like bamboo for local villagers; they store the numerous ingredients for medicines that heal us, so what TOFTigers is really saving here, is you and me – not just tigers – essentially the whole ecosystem that allows us to live on this – our only planet.
Nobody said it was easy, but we all play a part in achieving it.
And that is why we want travellers, travel companies and lodging businesses to join us, so we can continue to drive best practice in nature tourism with our PUG and Footprint certification tools, participate in our various training programmes and help us with your responsible tourism actions in and around the wildlands of South Asia. We are driving new ecotourism policy issues to enhance the long term sustainability of destinations for you to enjoy. We are encouraging restoration and rewilding of denuded landscapes for tomorrow’s visitors, with new partnership formats of nature tourism, new financial models to ensure investment in nature and local communities. Lastly, we highlight and reward those who do a fabulous job at achieving sustainability at our biannual TOFTigers Wildlife Travel Awards in New Delhi. This is how we can help you – and how you can help us. Please join us on the journey after COVID-19. We need you – and nature needs you too.
Also Read: Shoba Mohan: Sustainability Cannot Be Set Aside Even During A Pandemic