Can wildlife benefit from community-focused tourism?

Posted in News on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

It might not be obvious that wildlife conservation is a key benefit of successful and sustainable community tourism. Surely, by prioritising local people, we are setting up conflicts with wildlife in these communities? And would not wildlife benefit more by moving people away from areas of wildlife sensitivity?

We confront these issues in many of the villages with which we work. In the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, the Forestry Department considered relocating villagers from the area to give space to animals such as leopard and deer, and an extraordinarily varied birdlife from woodpeckers to eagles. In Madhya Pradesh, the government had already moved villagers away from tiger sanctuaries. So what role could community tourism have in these sensitive places?

We have found that the key to wildlife conservation, in respect of the communities in which we work, has been to demonstrate to villagers that wildlife can be an asset, attracting and delighting guests, rather than a threat to livelihoods. Once local people appreciate that the presence of wildlife is bringing guests, and therefore valuable income, then we have seen a decisive shift in attitude from local people. Wildlife is not harried and chased away, children no longer hurl stones at birds of prey. Our local guides learn that guests value sightings, and so get to know the best places to spot birds and animals.

Can we present evidence to support this? It is not easy to offer scientific evidence in the micro-areas in which we work, but we have had support from Forestry Departments and park authorities, who say that there have been increases in leopard sightings in Binsar, and an overall increase in bird numbers. Perhaps most importantly, guests appreciate more and more the way in which local guides reveal wildlife to them – this appreciation is a key factor in many of our trips now.

Looking to the future, we are collaborating with WWF on a possible new trip to the wild Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh, where WWF are looking to give local communities financial benefits from wildlife-based tourism. In a world beset by the climate crisis, it is good to see positive tourism in action.

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