The Supreme Court of India has placed a ban on tiger tourism, closing the country's tiger parks indefinitely as they investigate a claim that ecotourism is having a negative impact on the habitat of this endangered species.
It means that reserves such as Dhikala in Corbett will soon be out of bounds for tourists, who will only be able to enter "buffer zones" surrounding the preservation areas.
The court ruling came after a conservationist filed a case complaining that authorities in several states had allowed rampant construction of hotels and resorts within core areas of the reserves. He claimed that tourism was exerting too much pressure on the tigers.
Toby Sinclair, vice president for the Ecotourism Society of India, accused the government of allowing too many visitors into the parks.
"The 'eco' in ecotourism has changed to economy," he said, speaking on US news channel CNN.
But the news has triggered a heated debate between conservationists and tour operators about whether the ban will help or hinder the dwindling tiger population.
Speaking to the International Business Traveller, Julian Matthews, chairman of Travel Operators For Tigers, said he believed the decision was a retrograde step as it would allow poachers to roam free, unseen and unreported by sharp-eyed tourists.
He told AOL Travel: "The whole reason to visit these parks is to keep these marquee species alive. Where the tourists have disappeared, in parks like Sariska and Panna, so has the tiger. You just cannot argue with these stark facts.
"The presence of tourists is not only a critical source of income, it is also an essential deterrent for poachers, and without these extra sets of eyes the tigers will be vulnerable and disappear.
"Tourists are truly the only real ally of the tiger and the Indian government should be ashamed of even considering this absurd piece of legislation. Nowhere in the world can predators survive without tourism.
"Already I have had repeat clients wishing to cancel their safari next year so the rot has already started. It's an utter disgrace the like of which I have not seen in 29 years in tourism. If it is not rescinded, the tiger will be wiped out - and soon."
The World Wildlife Fund says the main threats to the species are habitat loss from illegal logging and commercial plantations, and poaching and retributive killing, including the illegal trade if tiger parts (see the video below).
What do you think? Will banning tiger tourism help preserve them? Tell us your thoughts below.
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