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How to go tiger watching responsibly


Sarah Bareham from ResponsibleTravel.com passes on her tips for ensuring your tiger safari helps conserve beautiful endangered creatures, not disturb them

With just 3,000 tigers left in the wild worldwide it is no wonder that the privileged few who get a glimpse of orange and black stripes on their safari have described the experience as highly emotional and a deeply spiritual moment. To put this priviledge into perspective, there are more tigers in captivity in the USA than in the wild anywhere.

It’s a chilling figure, and one which highlights clearly the need for responsible, responsive tourism that bolsters the efforts of local conservation initiatives.

So how can we, as tourists ensure our trip of a lifetime doesn’t threaten the lives of the animals we desperately want to see?

Keep it local

Three seemingly unstoppable forces; deforestation, development and the Chinese medicine industry, coupled with underlying issues of poverty, have spelled disaster for the world’s tiger populations. Quite simply, there is often more value in selling off the forest habitats and poaching tigers for the lucrative Chinese medicine trade than there is in preservation and conservation.

Responsible tourism offers just one way for tigers to fight back; by involving local communities in tourism and giving real economic value to keeping habitats intact, and the animals alive. Tiger lovers should look for safaris and tours that use locally owned accommodations, employ local guides and source produce from local farmers and tradesmen.

Homestays and other community-based tourism initiatives are a great way to ensure your holiday money goes directly to local people – while also getting a memorable glimpse of a big cat. But how do you go about finding a tiger safari which benefits local communities and conservation?

It’s easy: ask questions, lots of them. A responsible tour operator will welcome your interest in how their trip contributes to conservation, and how it supports local people. A good resource is Tour Operators for Tigers (www.toftigers.org) which campaigns for responsible tiger tourism in India.

Hands off

However, with well-managed tiger safaris not a budget holiday option, it can be tempting for tiger-lovers to settle for sanctuary and rescue-centre sightings. These opportunities exist worldwide, and although some are doing sterling work to protect tigers, others have less conservation and more profiteering aims at heart.

For example, it is our organisation’s policy to not market any trips that offer visits to the Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, commonly known as the Tiger Temple. Through consultation with the NGO, Care for the Wild, it is clear the centre makes no discernible contribution to conservation and there are serious concerns about the tigers’ welfare; with poor accommodation, lack of suitable environments and deliberate physical abuse to make them compliant to pose with tourists.

We encourage travellers to avoid visiting and supporting the Temple, and to avoid any sanctuary which allow hands-on contact with tigers and their cubs. Care for the Wild’s Right Tourism campaign (right-tourism.com) is a good resource to help tourists find a sanctuary with genuine conservation aims.

Responsibletravel.com is a good place to start your holiday research, as all trips on the site have been screened to ensure their commitment to responsible tourism.