March 18, 2024


Should wildlife safaris in parks be limited?

(Image credit: Timothy A. Gonsalves, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re planning a vacation, one option you’ve got is to holiday somewhere where you can experience a wildlife safari. There’s nothing like seeing animals up close in their habitat. In some cases, perhaps a bit too close for comfort. But it’s a unique way to appreciate the animal kingdom, the environment, and the ecology they occupy. Maybe you learn a little about the importance of conservation.

But are wildlife safaris a double-edged sword? There’s some contention on the issue as the Supreme Court recently banned tiger safaris within Uttarakhand’s Jim Corbett National Park. The court intends to safeguard the natural habitat. So, are safaris a bad thing, or can they be useful in educating people about wildlife conservation?


There’s a long history of wildlife conservation in India that goes back to ancient times. The past 120 years have arguably been the most important. The industrial revolution and population explosion have impacted the environment and natural ecosystems. Several species have been lost to history as a result.

Mary Curzon, the wife of then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, visited the Kaziranga in 1904. While the park was famous for the One Horned Rhinoceros, she couldn’t spot any. Dismayed, she urged her husband to take animal conservation seriously, and thus, the Kaziranga National Park was born.

Another milestone on this conservation journey came in 1935 when the Hailey National Park was declared the country’s first national park in Uttarakhand. We now know this as the famous Corbett National Park.

It wasn’t until 1972, with the Wildlife Protection Act, that legislation was enacted to provide legal protections for wildlife conservation and protection.

In the years that followed, India’s conservation journey saw the launch of Project Tiger in 1973, Indian Rhino Vision 2030 in 2005, India’s first pan-country tiger census in 2008, and Project Snow Leopard in 2009.

The journey has also seen the rise of wildlife tourism. It’s a unique interplay between local communities, tourists, and park officials. That’s thanks to a few things. The number of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks is now in the hundreds. Also, increasing disposable incomes and governments seeing a revenue generating and conservation opportunity.

The wildlife tourism segment has carved out a niche as a luxury experience. The unique mix of landscapes and animal species like Bengal tigers, elephants, and Indian rhinoceros bolsters its relative popularity and appeal in India. State governments and travel agencies have cashed in.

But let’s pump the brakes a little because something interesting happened recently on this issue. About a week ago, the Supreme Court banned tiger safaris within the Jim Corbett National Park. It stated safaris can only be allowed in the peripheral and buffer zones surrounding the park. It’s part of a broader effort by the court to safeguard the tigers and their habitat from being overrun by tourists.

With increased urbanisation and climate change, some argue we should rethink the conservation strategy through wildlife tourism, including animal safaris. Would that help or be a step backwards?

VIEW: It can get out of hand

In 2012, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) provided guidelines for wildlife tourism. It included the establishment of buffer zones in tiger reserves that see a large influx of tourists inside the critical habitat areas. However, this seldom works out. There have been more safari routes opened with more tourists coming in.

The NTCA guidelines also laid out rules for Tiger safaris for injured and orphaned tigers while stating that no tiger should be got from a zoo. That changed in 2019. Tigers from zoos were allowed, and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) could select the animals. Conservationists have argued that building safari parks for rescued tigers, for example, inside a reserve, prioritises the welfare of one animal over the entire species.

There’s also the economic side of things. Tourism obviously brings in money, and that’s no different for wildlife tourism. However, increased revenue is skipping local communities and ends up in the hands of private resorts, hotels, and agencies. On the environmental front, booming tourism has affected and threatened unprotected lands adjacent to parks. One study showed that 72% of tourist facilities were built after 2000, and 85% were within 5 km of a park.

COUNTERVIEW: A balance can be achieved

Indian forests and jungles are predominantly under the Forest Department’s jurisdiction. Even with a good amount of tourism activities like safaris, this ensures controlled and regulated access to wilderness areas and supports conservation efforts. India certainly has it better than some African countries that allow private ownership of forest land and limit public access. In the past, the government committed $10 billion to expand forest cover across the country.

The Indian wildlife tourism market has attained a sense of equilibrium with government initiatives complemented by the sector’s focus on small-scale nature-centric approaches. India has adopted a conservation-centric approach. The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Corbett case doesn’t specify anything against tiger safaris broadly. The court even acknowledged employment opportunities associated with safaris in the park’s buffer zone.

A one-zone-fits-all approach won’t help for reserves and parks. The best solution is for authorities to have location-specific solutions. This works best when there’s an integrated ecosystem of local communities, tourism enterprises, and tourists. Most national parks open up only about 20% of their land area for safaris and are available at fixed hours. Plus, there’s something to be said for keeping safaris alive to educate people on the conservation of the animals they spot.

Reference Links:

  • Wildlife tourists in India’s emerging economy: potential for a conservation constituency? – Cambridge University
  • Tiger Safari banned in Jim Corbett? Here is what SC has said – Times of India
  • Forest Act amendments: The perils of relying on zoos, safari parks for wildlife conservation – Down To Earth
  • Is wildlife tourism essential? – Conde Nest Traveller
  • Rise in wildlife tourism in India comes with challenges – Mongabay
  • Meant to reduce stress on big cats, why safari parks may be a double-edged sword – The Indian Express
  • Why wildlife tourism in India is poised to take off… – ET Travel World

What is your opinion on this?

a) Wildlife safaris in parks should be limited.

b) Wildlife safaris in parks shouldn’t be limited.


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