Q: With the ban on tiger tourism, is virtual tourism through remote cameras an option that can be looked into? Previously it could have been considered a threat to the revenue generated from safari ticket sales for the Forest Department. Remote cameras in various reserves in Africa allow anyone to view wildlife through africam.com, and scientists in the U.S. are installing such cams near osprey, heron and eagle nests (Cornell lab of ornithology and others). This helps in generating interest, and encourages citizen scientists to study nature. Is this a viable option for India, since remote cameras have become increasingly accessible and affordable? They can also aid the forest department in surveillance of places where there is a lot of activity, such as a game trail or a waterhole. An added bonus would be our ability to watch hard-to-view wildlife species and nocturnal wildlife. I would like to have an expert’s opinion on this. Thanks.

Asked by Ancy Alexander

Answer from Shekar Dattatri: The ban on tourism in core zones of Tiger Reserves is temporary. It is possible that the final ruling of the Supreme Court could allow limited, regulated tourism, although this remains to be seen. There is no doubt that remote cameras near waterholes and game trails can be great fun, as well as serve a useful monitoring purpose. However, I do not believe that putting such cameras in our forests will in any way lessen people’s desire to visit wildlife sanctuaries or National Parks. Even now, we can sit at home and watch wildlife programmes from around the world in glorious, life-like high definition. If more people could feel satisfied with this virtual experience, the tourism pressure on our parks would be considerably reduced. Unfortunately, everyone likes a good outing! Televison programmes and webcams in forests simply seem to whet people’s appetites even more for the real thing. Besides, having spent hundreds of hours sitting in hides overlooking game trails and waterholes, I can tell you that except at certain times of the year, and at certain times of the day at those certain times in the year, nothing much happens! The Indian jungle is not quite like the African savannah.  So unless people are happy to stare at an empty waterhole for hours, this will not be as big a draw or a hit as you may think. In any case, virtual is virtual. If we want people to really get involved in nature watching or conservation, it will have to be through hands-on activities.

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