E-Pao! Travel - Manipur: A brief introduction

Conserving environment to promote tourism

By: M.A. Haque *

On account of environmental variations, India supports variety of habitats and associated flora and fauna. These habitats and associated plants and animals play important role in attracting tourists.

There is great deal of variety with respect to environmental conditions in the country. Western Ghats receives about 2000 mm average rain, while certain areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Ladakh receive only about 100 mm of rain every year. World’s rainiest place is in Meghalaya.

Temperature also varies extensively from one region to another. As a result, a wide spectrum of habitats exists in India. Certain areas have tropical rainforests while others support alpine type of vegetation. Still other areas support temperate or another type of forest.

In addition, there are extensive grasslands, wetlands, rivers, estuaries, reservoirs etc. Also, large area is occupied by deserts, hot deserts in Rajasthan and Gujarat while Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh have unique cold deserts.

As many as 3.88 million foreign tourist arrivals took place till November this year recording a 12.9 per cent increase over the last year. Foreign exchange earning of Rs 25,934 crore was made showing growth of 16.9 per cent over the last year. Still, India receives only about 0.4 % of global tourists.

This is a matter of concern for people associated with tourism. But there is a section of people, which considers it to be a ‘boon in disguise’. This group consists of those who are concerned about conservation.

Their concern is that even with small number of tourists and visitors, our heritage and natural wealth are not safe. If the number grows, the problem will multiply. Let us look at some of the arguments they have against tourism and travel.

Unhealthy practices

To boost their income, organizations, institutions and individuals associated with tourism and travel activities encourage or allow activities that are detrimental. For example, every tourist or visitor going to the forest, National Park or Sanctuary is interested in viewing the wildlife. But the problem starts when their choice becomes very limited.

Everyone considers it essential to see animals like tiger, lion, elephant or leopard. These are large animals and their number is always small in any forest. Reasons are obvious. Tiger, leopard etc. are carnivorous. Being at the top of the food chain, their number cannot grow beyond a limit.

In case of elephant, it is the size of the animal and its huge food and space requirement that do not allow the number to grow beyond a limit. This is the reason that there is no guarantee that these can be sighted by visitors in a day or two. Visitors compare their visit with the films that they see on TV.

They want to get opportunity to see the animals in similar fashion, moving, hunting, playing, and mating. But they rarely realize that the film crew camps for weeks together to shoot and even then there is no guarantee of success. Occasional tourists compare their visit with TV shows and pressurize the management and often bribe the lower staff to view the animals from close.

For any tourist destination it is vital that they get adequate number of visitors to sustain the facilities there. Hence, at times the authorities indulge in practices which are not healthy. For example, animals are tracked and once they are spotted, visitors are sent to the location.

Earlier, baits were also offered to the animals to attract them to a particular spot and visitors were kept there. It is claimed by activists that when some VIPs visit a National Park or Sanctuary, a modified version of offering bait is practiced to ensure that they see the animals.

These activities lead to interference in the normal life of wild animals. Their feeding habits, hunting habits, sexual life etc. get affected. Also, by nature, the wild animals are shy and they do not like to come in contact with human being. On account of their forced exposure to visitors, their behaviour changes and they may not remain shy to humans and they may attack people if they get opportunity.

Unsupportive Infrastructure

Tourists, who can afford high cost, generally demand high standard facilities. Even when they are in a forest or in a small town, they expect modern facilities. There are two alternatives. Either the management provides them the facilities or they have to face the risk of not receiving such tourists.

The tour managers generally prefer the first option. This is the reason that we find star hotels, modern guesthouses with AC, TV, telephone etc. in small towns and even inside or close to forest areas.

As such, there is not much problem on account of these facilities being there. But these facilities change the landscape, adversely affect the normal life of local population and also create a barrier between the local population and the visitors.

Visitors do not get opportunity to interact with local population and experience the customs, rituals, lifestyle etc. of the local population.

Thus, one of the objectives of travel and tourism is defeated. When such facilities are created in forest or in the vicinity they exert serious impact on the environment and wildlife of the area. Lifestyle in high class hotels, guest houses etc. is totally different from the lifestyle in small towns, villages, and more so in and around forest areas.

For example, consumption of electricity, water and other resources are more. Generation of waste is also more and the nature of waste is different as most materials are from outside.

Use of disposables made of non-biodegradable materials, high power detergents and other chemicals multiply. Obviously, the infrastructure at those locations is not geared to deal with such wastes. As a result wastes accumulate and degrade the environment.

Threat to Biodiversity

Quite often visitors to biodiversity rich areas collect plants, plant parts, small animals. They also purchase rare plants, animal skin, bone, teeth, ivory, coral, or items made of these materials. As a result there is encouragement to poaching, hunting and illegal collection of these materials.

Obviously, it is against the basic principle of conservation. In the north- east it is common to find rare orchids and other endemic plants being sold on roadside. Tourists and visitors buy them to carry. Most of these plants die soon as the conditions in places where they are carried are different.

Similarly, in coastal areas rare fishes, animals, corals etc. are sold to visitors and tourists causing threat to the biodiversity of the area. At times poachers and hunters enter the forest as tourists and visitors.

Responsible Tourism

Solution lies in ecotourism. 'Ecological' has double purpose i.e. environmental as well as social. The term "Ecotourism" has been defined by the International Ecotourism Society as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people".

Ecotourism is supposed to satisfy certain criteria. In essence, it involves everything which can sustain tourism without creating problems for the people, places and environment.

If we plan to have long term benefits from tourism, we must adopt Ecotourism in its real spirit.

M.A. Haque ( as part of PIB) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 15th, 2007.

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