Wildlife Tourism- Boon or Bane?

My journey with wildlife began in college when I enrolled myself for a wildlife photography workshop. It was just the beginning of my photography career and what better chance would I get to explore both my favourite activities- photography and wildlife exploration.

I hadn’t visited a proper Tiger reserve before and I was hoping to spot a big cat. But what I was hoping for was getting back home with great pictures and primarily, getting the feel of an untouched pristine, natural habitat! After a six hour drive, me and three other participants reached a popular jungle resort in the South of India and prepared our camera gear for the evening game drive into the jungle.

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The two day stay saw me spend eight hours in the jungle and that’s when something inside me changed. Though we couldn’t spot a wild cat, the experience of witnessing sunrises and sunsets in the jungle itself had me mesmerized. And then I thought that if a Utopia like that had such a deep, magical impact on me, imagine the kind of impact it could have had on the public who were introduced to such magic. I immediately realized the importance of nature and the role it plays in the evolution of mankind.

If eight hours spent in the jungle could have such an impact on my thoughts and emotions, bringing out my love for mother nature and the beautiful creatures that lay in the jungle, imagine the role it could have played if people continued to live around nature.

But somewhere back in time, we preferred a different path altogether, trying to compete with nature and overpower it rather than living within it. Though we all know that nature is powerful, our curious, mischievous and optimistic nature combined with ‘worldly’ illusions prevents up from accepting nature as a part of us, and us as a part of nature.

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While I wanted to get back home and show my people the kind of pictures I had clicked, I also wanted to scream out to the world about the solution I had to almost all problems of the world- live with nature. But, when I was back in the city, I found people quite interested in the photographs but when it came to explaining friends about the jungle, the magic of nature, etc. I found them to be less interested. As if, I had revealed something to them that they weren’t prepared to listen.

As I shared my images on social media and visited other national parks over the next few years, I witnessed a huge increase in the number of people doing just the same thing and that number, multiplied every year. I was happy though, because it was a great opportunity for people to open up to a pure, raw world. But, little did I expect business to catch in this sphere. It did!

Soon, the price of forest entry fees was hiked up, accommodation options became inaccessible for the middle class, Jeep safaris costed 70% more than before, and most importantly, the prices of camera zoom lenses sky rocketed. I observed the situation for some time, hoping for the government to step in or for the market to stabilise on its own. It didn’t.

In fact, the scene got much worse. The prices kept rising and to match up to the ever flowing demand, forest reserves introduced more vehicles so that more people could be taken around the jungle. Soon, people became obsessed with ‘capturing’ images of Tigers only, nothing else seemed of any interest to most. Ethics, jungle behaviour, peace in the jungle went downhill as reports of  jeep drivers stressing Tigers out began coming to light, people holding high posts in corporations and government offices used their influence to break forest rules.

The forest then, turned from a peaceful serene heavenly haven to a public entertainment system. While the forest department did intervene in the process, they themselves hiked the safari prices further, not knowing that jungle safaris would become a status symbol for people.

Tiger in the centre

Tiger in the centre

Today, the situation hasn’t been any better though. The prices were dropped marginally but are still high. There is a long waiting list for people wanting to go for a jungle safari and tigers continue to face the population explosion stress. What I thought earlier about people opening up to the forest didn’t perhaps happen the way it should have. We probably aren’t ready for such a revelation because we’re still too tied down by the ego and competition, the reptilian brain ours probably prevents us from looking at the big picture.

There are a lot of wildlife enthusiasts out there but they are endangered, just like the Royal Bengal Tiger. What I see around jungles today is people discussing how many tigers they shot with their cameras, the settings of their cameras and pretty much other petty things that surround that topic. Nobody talks about the smell of the forest, or the sunset by the waterhole. Nobody seems to think before throwing that plastic bag in the jungle, nobody wonders about humans living around trees, waterfalls and herbs. I was saddened to see the state of affairs and thought to myself that since charity begins at home, I too should stop myself from contributing to this madness. After all, things can come under control only after appropriate and strict regulations are put in place.

So I decided to put my passion at stake for a while and stop visiting Tiger reserves and other popular sanctuaries during peak season. I chose not to annoy Tigers and other creatures of the jungle using jeep engine noises and weird sounds from cameras. Instead, I chose to pay the forest a visit at times when Tiger sightings were at an all time low. That’s one instance when most of the tourists don’t prefer going and by doing so, they’re making the forest a lot less chaotic.

Not only my jungle visits, I also cut down on disposable plastic food and water because they would either end up in the stomach of an animal or in the ocean. It’s been two years since I bought mineral water sold in plastic bottles and I can tell you, it is not only possible but also practical and economical.

I went deeper in order to not be a part of this unknown destruction and to be frank, I surprise a lot of my wildlife photographer mates. In order to not get caught in the vicious cycle of buying new camera lenses, I decided to use my mediocre zoom lens whenever I visited a national park. Instead of zooming into a bird or mammal, I thought I should rely more on my creativity to capture not only the animal but also its mesmerizing habitat in the frame. Initially, I thought this would be quite impractical but as I realised, it didn’t! In fact, I opened myself to a whole new perspective and explored my creativity.

A male peacock impressing a peahen by performing a dance for her. Zoomed out for this shot, the green habitat captures it all!

A male peacock impressing a peahen by performing a dance for her. Zoomed out for this shot, the green habitat captures it all!

All these changes primarily did one thing- boosted my confidence to tread my own path. As for conservation, the safari shows still go on with chaos in the jungles but I’m glad to see people slowly waking up to realise what they’ve been doing in the name of entertainment and ego fulfilment. I’m happy to have found people who share the same thoughts and feelings, people willing to sacrifice personal goals for elements that need us right now, the elements that we need more, knowingly or unknowingly.

Things are taking their own sweet time to change. At one point of time, all seems to be going pretty well when it came to tourism and conservation but many a times, I also see things going back downhill. All I know is that time is running out and with nature already under so much stress from man- made products and services, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Will mother nature wait for us as we display a very slow rate of understanding, yet get adapted to exploiting it easily? Or will she strike when we least expect her to? All I can say is, that she’s given us a lot of time and most probably would continue doing so until the day arrives when the biggest problem we would face is our thoughts and greed. Nature knows best and she definitely is keeping a close watch.

Nature knows best

Nature knows best

As for my natural Utopian dreams, I don’t visit the forest that often now but I feel happy for doing so. I personally thank nature for making me the kind of person I am today. What started out as a college going teenager with thoughts of making wildlife photography his career now thinks deeply, cares more about compassion towards other creatures than camera lenses and most importantly, has given up on an activity that disturbs the equilibrium of a forest.

I don’t take pride in any of those thoughts because if it wasn’t for nature, I wouldn’t have been the kind of person I am today. I guess, that’s why they say- nature is the best teacher and it can bring about huge personal transformations. I’m sure just like me, every individual out there needs to rethink on lifestyle choices, wants and most importantly to surrender, open up to nature in order to invite raw, unadulterated life lessons that are beyond everything you’ve ever known or done.

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Ssaajan Manoj Jogia

Ssaajan Manoj Jogia is a 26 year old motorcycle traveller, wildlife photographer and nature lover from Bangalore, India . Passionate about environment conservation and eco- friendly ways of travel, he believes in exploring earth with love, hunger for knowledge and looks forward to sharing his thoughts and experiences with people through his writing skills, only to push them to travel more and add value to life.  More of Ssaajan's writings can be found on his blog, www.getridingyoubum.in.