By Emily King
In an effort to protect wildlife habitats, India’s Supreme Court has extended the tourism ban on core areas of tiger reserves until September 27th. Over half of the world’s tigers reside in India, many living in the 40 tiger reserves scattered across the country. Hotels, shops, and villages were permitted to build in core areas to attract local and foreign cat-lovers to the habitats, but the ban restricts travel to newly-established buffer zones outside of the areas most populated by the tigers.
Many conservationist worry that the ban will further endanger the tigers--the presence of hundreds of watchful tourist eyes have kept the lands free of poachers. Tourism gives local communities an economic reason to maintain tiger populations, protect the endangered species, and crack down on illegal hunting.
The tigers also seem to benefit directly from the tourists--the more heavily-visited reserves have an increasing density of the cats, while tiger populations continue to dwindle in forests that are not frequented by travelers.
The ban in not expected to have a large impact on India’s tourism industry until the reserves re-open in October. There are many communities within the boundaries of the reserves with an economy reliant on wildlife tourism; if the ban remains in place, these villages will be heavily impacted.