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Why the blanket ban on tourism in tiger reserves is a bad idea

28/07/2012

For someone who fell in love with wildlife at a Tiger Reserve, the Supreme Court’s ban on all tourism activities in the core areas of the Tiger Reserves comes as a huge shock. My tryst with wildlife started at the Nagarhole National Park and at Bandipur National Park, both Tiger Reserves. I spent 6 months volunteering as a naturalist at Bandipur, which quickly became my second home. Over time, the increase in crowds to these parks due to Tiger tourism and my own need to explore different habitats, made me travel lesser and lesser to Tiger Reserves and more to the unexplored and lesser known rainforests of the Western Ghats. Tiger tourism is different from tourism in Tiger Reserves. While one focuses on promoting the spotting of the big cat, the other is tourism in Tiger Reserves to see the different kinds of flora and fauna. While I completely support the idea of very restricted and well controlled tourism in these areas, I think a blanket ban is a bad idea.

The Supreme Court says no to tourism in “core areas” of Tiger Reserves. To rephrase this correctly, it means almost no tourism in any Tiger Reserves. Most of the buffer zone in which tourism is now intended is usually the neighboring village settlements and secondary forests and in most of these buffer areas one hardly gets to experience the full richness of the bio-diversity. Like most extreme measures this too has its own set of problems. Most of the conservationists, researchers, wildlife photographers and filmmakers I’ve met, first fell in love with the Jungles through the eyes of Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson followed by frequent trips to the wild to spot elephants, tigers and leopards. Since spotting animals in the Indian jungles is difficult, some slowly started looking up at the birds, some below to snakes and frogs; and some to the plants and trees around. Controlled wildlife tourism has been a powerful tool to increase the awareness among people about our bio-diversity leading to conservation.

I have been involved in teaching children about bio-diversity and can confidently say that the love and connect happens when they see and experience these animals for real and not on television or Ipads. The sparkle in the eyes, the racing heartbeat and adrenaline rush when someone spots an elephant herd or a tiger is hardly the same as watching a documentary. So how will the next generation of researchers, conservationists, photographers, filmmakers and policymakers fall in love with our bio-diversity? Like Baba Dioum said “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” So who are we protecting our forests from? Poachers, land sharks and development or our future. In the last few years of my time in the wild, I’ve come across very few cases of poaching in tourism areas. Poaching tends to take place in areas where there’s little or no access. A few tourists with cameras have in fact served to document our rich biodiversity not to mention irregularities and administration failures in National Park. In fact, our under-staffed and under-equipped forest department can use tourism to their advantage.

Most tourists who travel to these exotic wildlife destinations spend anywhere between Rs. 5,000 – Rs. 20,000 per person per day to get a glimpse of the rare cat or spot some animals and birds. Until now there was a simpler, more controlled mechanism for everyone to travel through governed bodies to these National Parks. Now with the ban, the pressure on the forest department to utilize forest guest houses for entertaining those with the ‘connect’ will only increase. The already lean staff force who are neither trained nor equipped to handle tourists will now be burdened with aspects of hospitality when their time can be better used for the protection of forests. Those National Parks that have not yet been declared Tiger Reserves and don’t come under the ban but do have healthy animal populations and are also fragile habitats will now be under extreme pressure and will lead to more drastic problems.

Most resorts near the Tiger Reserves have provided excellent employment for locals. A lot of the hunter/gatherers in neighboring areas have now stopped venturing into the forests because of wildlife tourism. This also means that there is lesser human activity in the jungles from local settlements to gather firewood etc. The ban can suddenly change the whole balance in these areas, with thousands of people losing jobs, many who can then potentially indulge in activities that could be illegal/detrimental for the survival of the very animal that this ban is trying to prevent.

Wildlife tourism also brings in large revenue to the forest department, most of this goes directly to the local range in which tourism happens. A significant part of these funds are also used for betterment of local communities in the surrounding areas. Some of the resorts also assist the forest department with their jeeps and man power for maintenance work in the National Parks. These resources have come in extremely handy in times of forest fires and have possibly saved hundreds of acres of forest.

Why must all our steps be extreme? Africa has some of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world which are extremely well preserved and protected. At the same time their major source of revenue is tourism. They use tourism and the revenue it generates to maintain the parks, rehabilitate poachers as guides and workers. Some wildlife reserves in Africa are now facing unique problems because of thriving Elephant population. The solution lies in striking the right balance. Controlled, regulated tourism can be a great tool in preserving and conserving our forests and its bio-diversity. I completely agree with this article “Come clean or clear out”, it brings together some great points on how we can regulate and keep our forests clear of the mayhem we create. As history teaches us, most extreme measures have been recipes to disaster.

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Mumbai street photography on a mobile phone

19/10/2011

I have always wanted to try street photography. A big camera (read DSLR) unfortunately is not the tool for it I’ve realized, the attention the camera seeks takes away from the natural expressions and ruins almost all opportunities for a candid shot. Recently when I upgraded my mobile phone to a Samsung Galaxy SII with an amazing camera and visited mumbai simultaneously, it was the perfect time for me to try my hand at street photography. This experiment is also to reiterate that the a DSLR is not always the solution and even a mobile phone can produce some amazing results…

Marine drive walkway

Juhu chowpatty

Sunset at Juhu chowpatty

No trip to Mumbai is complete without Masala Pav

And ofcourse the famous colas

Ganapati immersion procession

Boys who take the Ganapati for the immersion

The old and new, mills that make way for malls – Phoenix mall

Contrasting worlds

Madh island, the escapade from the bustling city

The ever growing city and its needs… The sealink

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Experiments with technology and media

15/02/2011

The last few months have been very interesting and exciting. Coming from a technology background and having worked with photography and filming, I’ve always felt that the line between different types of media has been fast diminishing. There are times when you want to freeze that moment and show a photograph to tell a story, other times you need the brilliance of motion and audio. There are also times when you feel you could have shown a panorama of the place to establish its beauty. Recently I had the opportunity to work with Microsoft Research Labs on their new platform which combines different types of media to create a whole new method of interactive story telling. Digital narratives is where the new technology “Rich Interactive Narratives (RIN)” is being showcased. I worked on stills, 360 degree panos, synths and video for the Hampi narrative, take a look at it and tell me how you liked it. The technology is very new and these are just some pilot projects, hopefully will be able to work on narratives for wildlife soon.

Also the new Nikon D7000 has been proving extremely good. Great image quality and amazing video. Been working on some new video projects with it which should be out soon.

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What’s their future?

25/08/2009

Its been a lucky season. I’ve been fortunate in seeing and photographing young ones of a few key species found in India. The Joy of seeing a new generation of these animals in times which are hard for their survival has been an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

After a really long wait, I finally managed to be there at the right place at the right time to photograph the Baby King Cobras which had just hatched in a nest close to Agumbe.

I also made a short trip to Nagarhole where 2 leopard cubs abandoned in a sugarcane field close to the Nagarhole forest by the mother and have been rescued by the forest department.

The one question that came across my mind each time I saw them was “What’s their future?”

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Leopard tales

8/08/2009

Not many times in life does one come across opportunities like this. Wildlife is full of surprises, and one rewarded and when least expected. Having spent almost 2 weeks in the summer in Kabini and having had no luck with photographing any cats though sighted a few, I didn’t expect I’d get to shoot much in the monsoons. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was to see two leopards!

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A new journal

17/07/2009

So I did try be lazy and pushed the unavoidable but anyway here it is my new journal http://amoghavarsha.com/journal

I will still cross post to LJ until it works.

Also I haven’t put up any images lately though I’ve shot a ton. Here’s one for starters

In the summers, elephants spend a lot of time close to water. When we came to a waterhole expecting a tiger, we saw this guy playing without a care in the world. He was no farther than 200ft.

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The Band theory

18/06/2009

It was a cold august night in 2006 at the army base in Leh, and after biking for more than 4 days I was spending that time resting in my room. I was sharing my room with an army officer and every evening we would discuss quite a few things and he’d tell me quite a few tales. And this is one of the most important things he told me that night:
its preachy, beware!

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Welcome Maximus

13/05/2009

My new ride, a 4X4 Safari dicor EX – mountain green. Been wanting this for a longtime for all my jungle travels, with 4 wheel drive and green color its just perfect for the forests. With 140bhp under the hood and a refined 2.2 ltr engine, its powerful and more fuel efficient. And ofcourse I’m not selling the zen

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Ghost of darkness

24/12/2008

A sudden trip to Hampi, made it one of the most memorable ones. We drove to Daroji Bear Sanctuary in the evening and as the light started fading, we got out of the sanctuary. Sanath was driving the car and after a while he spotted the leopard on the edge of the road! It was wading through the empty fields, and what followed later will need a 4 page essay. In short we photographed this guy for a long long time, enough to run out of battery and memory card. I have close to a 100 shots of him in all sorts of positions, but here’s one for the start.

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Life update

23/10/2008

A lots been happening. For starters I’m no longer with asklaila. It has been a very hard decision to quit a company where I started from day 1 of the company. Well I’ve moved on to fulltime photography and filmmaking. I’m working part time with felis. Its a new exciting phase of life I’m moving on to, where most things are new.

My last few trips to the jungles have been mostly to the western ghats, and to Agumbe. Was with the filming crew of the Nat-geo King Cobra documentary with sandesh, also got to see the hatching of king cobra babies!!! Will post a pic or 2 on that later. A photo-expedition to Agumbe went really well. I couldn’t post the details as the seats were filled even before I sent out a mailer. I’m planning to do another one soon, and will keep you guys posted.

Haven’t had time to process photos but here is the Bush frog and the Beddome’s cat snake I photographed at Agumbe.

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