Wildlife Tourism – New Study, New Revelations

Tiger tourists in Ranthambore
Aditya Singh

Tourists have a critical role to play in India as wildlife tourism continues to grow.

Wildlife tourism has averaged 15% growth in India, mirroring many countries. This growth is reflected in the increase in visitors to many Indian protected areas. Krithi K. Karanth, Ruth DeFries, Arjun Srivathsa and Vishnupriya Sankaraman examine the attitudes and perceptions of visitors to three of India’s most popular and well known National Parks and Tiger Reserves, namely Nagarahole, Kanha and Ranthambore.

These are the highlights of their study from a forthcoming paper in the journal Oryx.

  • Wildlife tourism is growing at 15% annually in parks.
  • Over 70% of visitors are Indian.
  • The majority of tourists are on their first visit, spend an average $600 on their visit and stay for less than a week.
  • Tourists visit to see nature, tigers and appreciate the scenic beauty of these parks.
  • Many tourists (71%) are willing to re-visit these parks but tourists to Ranthambore and Kanha say that tiger sightings are a must.
  • Tourists are willing to pay more — in the form of higher entry fees.
  • Tourists believe that local people benefit from wildlife tourism.
  • Tourists indicated that parks need to be managed better by the Forest Department.

Study Sites

Three parks were selected across India- Nagarahole, Kanha and Ranthambore -where visitor numbers vary from 74,000 to 154,000 people per year. These parks are among India’s premier tiger viewing destinations.


In 2010, interviews were conducted with 436 visitors to these parks.

The Results

  • Wildlife tourism in India and in these parks has seen growth from less than 10,000 people per year to more than 170,000 people per year over a 15-year period.
  • Many tourists (71%) were first time visitors to these parks but had participated in wildlife tours elsewhere.
  • Visitors were well educated (52% with bachelor’s degrees and 30% with post-graduate degrees) and spent an average of US $600, staying for up to a week.
  • People visited these parks to see nature, view tigers and appreciate scenic beauty.
  • Visitors best experiences were good wildlife sightings in all parks.
  • Common complaints were too many vehicles and poorly trained drivers and guides.
  • Many tourists (71%) are likely to revisit the same parks but tourists in Ranthambore and Kanha were more tiger-centric and less likely to visit if tigers were to go extinct.
  • Tourists were aware of gate fees and many were willing to pay higher gate fees.
  • Tourists visiting Ranthambore and Kanha, perceived more benefits to local people compared to tourists in Nagarahole.
  • Many (80%) tourists were not happy with the Forest Departments’ park and tourism management efforts.
  • Tourist suggestions include improving the entry process, limiting the number of vehicles and improving vehicle safety.
  • Visitors also recommended educating tourists and monitoring other tourists’ behavior and better training for guides and drivers.
  • Other suggestions include increasing patrolling efforts and employing more locals.


Tourists have a critical role to play in India as wildlife tourism continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Visitors’ concern and interest in Indian wildlife and parks along with financial prowess can become a boon or death knell for conservation. There is a critical need to encourage visitors to behave better inside parks (noise, clothing, trash), and respect the environment they are in. Interest in tigers is wonderful, but obsession with a single species can do serious harm to the other wildlife and wild places we are trying to conserve.

Click here for tips on how to be a better wildlife tourist.

Also read another related study on tourism by the same author: Wildlife Tourism in India — New Challenges for Park Management.

About the author

Read more
Dr. Krithi K. Karanth a Ramanujan Fellow is currently Executive Director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University.


Older Comments
  1. Vikram  Hiresavi

    I personally don’t believe tourism is the answer to these communities’ challenges. They don’t have a connect with what most tourists in our country want & would struggle against resorts offering comforts that the typical tiger tourist in this country seeks. At best, a few can become guides.

    I believe they would be of greater use in direct conservation activities, with supervision of the FD but funded privately (i.e. through NGOs). Activities could include patrolling, afforestation, animal counts even education/awareness programs in & around PAs (as they have the necessary linguistic skills & knowledge already).

    All these can be achieved with minimal training & can provide them with livelihood within the environment they know better than anyone else.

    Instead, we use people from urban areas to do many of these things while the locals are relegated to menial work, being guides or asked to churn out forest-based goods.

    In my mind, they’re among the best naturalists; not good at commerce, but we push them to become better at commerce while struggling to get good naturalists from elsewhere.

    I say this from my own experiences when exploring options to market lantana-based furniture made by tribals in various parts of Karnataka; TN

  2. A few points which come to my mind :
    1. Its good that tourist traffic is increasing . It shows public interest in nature conservation beside its beneficial monetary aspect to wild life and nature conservation.Hope SC will take note of it on 22nd August.
    2.Entry fee / rates to reserves / sanctuary must not be revised upwards further. The present rates are already quite high.
    3. Local populace near the reserves can not be said to be in engaged in menial jobs only. At Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve 90% of the locals are gainfully employed . They are Gypsy owners , Drivers, Guides and support staff at he tourist lodges.
    4.NGO’s / wild life support groups can play their part more effectively in supporting the local population and furthering the cause of nature conservation.Recently a popular TV channel held a day long program at Ranthambore in a luxury facility furthering save the tiger campaign. While it is welcome , the better way would have been to host it at some resettlement village of a tiger sanctuary and inviting the ministers and government official there . The most immediate needs ( a link road , a bore-well for drinking water or a school building etc )of that community would have been determined there on the spot and some donation money would have been given for it. Such a move would have been very beneficial in the long run for nature and wildlife conservation efforts in the country.
    J R Mohan