Ecotourism has already made its presence felt as a fast-spreading essential component, linked to areas that have otherwise made marks for wildlife conservation. But the implementation of ecotourism objectives has not been able to create a niche that is acceptable without dispute or conflict with the objectives of wildlife conservation. Here, the term ‘wildlife conservation’ is used for the group of activities meaning ‘wildlife, biodiversity or nature conservation’.
Ecotourism is necessary because first, it is one of the media to highlight the tangible and intangible benefits of wildlife conservation, and second, it is one of the acceptable sources of earning some revenue for the wildlife organization which is otherwise termed as an expenditure department that (only) spends funds for various activities.
Ecotourism objectives and approaches have to be sustainable and compatible with wildlife conservation, without causing any conflict with short term or long term objectives of wildlife conservation.
Confirming to the synonyms of the term ‘wildlife’, and the objectives for achieving compatible and sustainable ecotourism, the areas where wildlife-oriented ecotourism should be implemented stand in the following order of priority.
(1) Areas showing fruits of biodiversity under Participatory Forest Management
(2) Wildlife Corridors or Habitat-linkages
(3) Periphery of wildlife sanctuaries
(4) Wildlife Sanctuaries.
In practice, however, the order that is being followed starts and ends with sanctuaries. The areas where wildlife-based ecotourism have been aimed till now include only the Sanctuaries. That appears to be primarily because of convenience in compliance. A base of infrastructure and a set of staff are already available in sanctuaries. But willingness or ad hoc arrangements for sharing of resource of staff or infrastructure for ‘ecotourism’ is neither in the interest of wildlife conservation nor in the long term sustainability of ecotourism objectives. The required number of staffs for wildlife work have to be positioned first, and then a separate set of staff have to be deployed and suitably trained for specific ecotourism activities, that are compatible and do not encroach into the cultural values of local people. Children who normally kept away from visitors, or should have been in a school, seem to be shedding their inhibitions and running behind jeeps or gyrating around a camping site awaiting the camp to pack off. These are, sadly, indicators of eroding cultural values because of proliferating ecotourism close to villages inside sanctuaries.
Tourism in sanctuaries are governed by ‘tourism season’ and tourism route’. Therefore, with ‘round-the-year-tourism’ in mind, attention has to shift away from the sanctuary, to its periphery, to its linkage-corridors, or to the adjoining villages where people are excelling in participatory forest management. Adequate survey and assessment is necessary to identify locations, judge the potentialities, develop meticulous plans and implement the projects for screening serious ‘eco-tourists’ and reduce burden on sanctuaries. People willing to devote time and go for wildlife-oriented ecotourism can proceed from periphery to the sanctuary. Places used for camping should be away from places used by ‘wildlife’. The wilderness or ‘wild’ (natural) responses should not be robbed away from wildlife on the road to promoting tourism as ‘ecotourism’.
‘Ecotourism’ concept has to be kept at a place where its impacts are felt to the minimum inside Sanctuaries and National Parks, which are primarily designed for biodiversity conservation.