Tag Archives: eco-tourism

Where Wild Tigers Still Roam


Did you know that India is home to most all of the estimated 2,000 wild Bengal tigers still left on the planet? Only after drastic conservation measures have many tiger species returned from the brink of extinction in the 1940s. Of the nine different tiger species that once roamed the world, six remain. Not long ago, I was lucky enough to see two in the wild — a mother-tiger and her young one, in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in hard-to-reach central India.

Wild animals are the best reminders of why we need to care about the environment. Their mode of living also offers us a lesson: wild animals don’t over-consume. Wild animals don’t need to collect “stuff”. Wild animals don’t need oil to get places or keep warm or clean.

Sadly, the above — our modern human way of living —  has affected wild animal habitat so much that simply seeing certain animals is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Tiger reserves, like those the Indian government have set up, are really our only chance to see them these days.

Located in India’s central agricultural basin, Bandhavgarh was once a place for Indian and British royalty to shoot and kill tigers. How times have changed. Today, about 60 Bengal tigers roam over 500 square miles of protected jungle and savannah. For 12 hours each day (dusk to dawn, when they are most active) the tigers are left alone. For the other 12 hours, tourists in open-top jeeps crisscross the park on designated dirt roads hoping to spot them.

Park fees protect the tigers and other animals and the guide fees create much-needed income for local residents in this poor district, where most people live on about $1 per day. Eco-tourism at its best.

Still, it’s not your typical image of eco-tourism. Imagine a mob of paparazzi snapping pictures of movie stars outside the Academy Awards you’ll get a sense of the mayhem as safari jeeps converge on a tiger visiting a watering hole at India’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. More than once, I found myself in a crowd of 20 jeeps parked helter-skelter, packed with visitors from faraway places clamoring to see one of the world’s rarest creatures.

After we finally saw these two, drinking at a watering hole, my eyes started to tear up. I then laughed as I watched the young tiger try to jump and capture a wild peacock for dinner. The peacock got away.

It hit me: something really bad has happened in our history for a simple glimpse of a tiger — or in my case, two tigers — to be so precious. Will seeing trees and clean water and breathing unpolluted air be this out-and-out thrilling someday? Will humans eventually live in protected zones? I certainly don’t hope so.

Still, wildlife reserves like Bandhavgarh will never completely undo the damage. My tears for the tiger, when it came down to it, were for all things wild. Every creature is precious, forming an ecosystem that we are only beginning to understand. Humans are an integral part of that ecosystem and an integral part of its ultimate survival. We must change our consumptive ways and strive to keep wild places wild if we want a better future than the tigers. The experience only renewed my drive to reduce my overall use of resources, to support wildlife and wilderness conservation, and to encourage others to do the same.

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Quiet (for now) on the Quiquibey


Excerpted from my chapter on the Bolivian Amazon from my travel memoir-in-progress:

Watching the moon rise over the world’s ventilator, you can really breathe. The stars reveal themselves in the millions from this unlit vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. And the audio — oh the nocturnal noise! – is all natural: billions of insect and reptile songs creating a kind of ethereal pulse. Croaks and dinkkkks and vrrrs and tzzzzs — melodies that mask the careful foot steps of jaguar – are nightly symphonies in the Amazon rain forest. In three days, I’ve come to relish the cacophony, the dangers it can hide, and the outright mysteries of this place.
The seemingly unbroken top of the Amazon rain forest canopy is just below me; I’m sitting on a cliff above the Quiquibey River, deep inside Bolivia’s Pilon-Lajas Biosphere Reserve and Indigenous Territory. When I look across the dark gurgling waters, I envision jumping over it and walking on top of the spongy rounded lumps of trees for miles.
The reality is, though, even if I could magically walk on the tops of trees, I would eventually fall into a gap: a logged area. But for now, unbroken wilderness is all I can see, and being inside the Amazon for the first time is magic indeed. Like the stretch of rainforest in front of me, my mind feels happily stretched out here, wide enough to process thoughts of past, present and future all at once.
I’m joined at cliff’s edge by a few other night-loving tourists; it’s the first time to the Amazon for all of us, and everyone seems to be having a mind-shift too. I don’t want to leave, and I’m not the only one. For many of us on the cliff, the thought of returning to a world of airplanes and honking cars and crime still feels years away. The reality is that most of us will return to that world in mere days.
But right now the skyscrapers are trees, nourished by ample sun and rain. The trees are so close together they literally hug all day and all night. Lovely how they do that, linking branches, making shade for everybody down below. And there is an everybody under there. Most of the human life living under the canopy have come out onto the rivers and shown themselves to the outside world. A few have not as seen – ironically – on CNN.
Our Moseten and T’Simane tribal hosts are among those who have made – and some might say, seek – contact from the outside world. They’ve built five bungalows for tourists and named the place Mapajo Ecolodge. It has been our home in the jungle for the last few nights.
It’s our final night in the rainforest. I’m concerned about how outsiders like me are changing this place; how I, here as leader of a group of 14 American and Canadian volunteers, have filled the little lodge to capacity. We have already changed the daily life of the local people just by being here, choosing this place to rest and recharge. As my mind wanders, caiman and alligator and massive, ancient river-bottom fish slip through the water just below the cliff where we sit. The Quiquibey is only one of thousands of rivers that snake their way into the mighty Amazon.
Vast tracts of this jungle have remained unchanged for thousands of years. I’d love to know the exact percentage of virgin forest that remains, but the logging rages so fast that it’s impossible to get current figures. I’m here because I want to learn more about the past that rules daily life here – the medicinal plants, hunting and fishing in the jungle, and all the fruits and vegetables that sustain the local indigenous people.
The locals have been teaching us these things. I think that’s valuable for us, members the “outside world” in order to understand – and perhaps better protect – the Amazon. But what are the indigenous people getting out of it, other than money and exposure to our (rather unnecessary) Gore-Tex rain jackets and moisture-wicking socks and SLR cameras?
Do we, by supporting eco-tourism here, do more harm than good?

I’d love to hear answers from readers to this question
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