When you travel to India with Wildland Adventures, we invite you to join our 10,000 Tigers Campaign. Wildland Adventures is collaborating with TOFT, Travel Operators for Tigers, an Indian-based non-profit to improve tiger tourism management and support tiger conservation. Wildland and our travelers are sponsoring the guide training for Mr. Vinod Ayam at Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, through our Travelers Conservation Trust [TCT] program.
There may be as few as 3,200 wild tigers left in existence, with an estimated 800-1,200 remaining in India. Three tiger subspecies (Bali, Javan and Caspian) have already gone extinct and a fourth (the South China tiger) the next on the brink. Illegal poaching is the primary cause of the tiger's decline, driven by black market demand for tiger skins, bones and organs. The wild tiger once roamed throughout much of Asia. Today, this magnificent cat remains in just 7% of its original habitat. Shrinking tiger habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented due to encroachment by commercial uses and expanding human populations around tiger habitat.
Leading scientists in India believe that current habitat for tigers in India is sufficient to support as many as 10,000 tigers. We like the idea of doing what we can to move forward, not just stop the decline of tiger populations, but to reverse the trend in India and raise tiger counts to levels the habitat can support.
Park guides who live in communities surrounding Bandavgrah, Kanha and Pench National Parks, the prime tiger tourism reserves of India, have had minimal training to develop natural history knowledge, interpretive skills, and fundamentals of tourism management and tiger conservation. The training that has been done through the Madhya Pradesh Ecotourism Development Board (MPEDB) has raised the level of guiding in the park and enhanced the self- image of local guides in their profession and their approach to their craft. However, a higher level of training, more consistent with international standards of interpretation and tourism management, will not only enhance the experience of the visitor, but it will assure a higher level of conservation as guides gain more authority and raise awareness within their own communities of the benefits of tiger tourism, the importance of protecting their habitat, and the role that guides and communities can play in helping stop poaching.
This proposal seeks to substantially enhance the current program with a privately sponsored, industry led, longer term training programme for selected applicants that moves from what is regarded as Level I guide training to a Level II. Its aim is to make these guides more specialists, by enhancing their communications skills and standards of spoken English, improving the interpretive skills as naturalists, and educating them more about conservation management.
The aim is to help these self-employed and local guides achieve new standards of guiding, able to move from a purely Tiger centric - and much criticised - guiding approach to a more holistic interpretation of the natural environment. And, this will in turn help guides move tourists (both Indian nationals and foreign visitors) from a passive interest in nature to an active desire to support conservation, instilling the joys and excitement of the natural world and the importance of protecting it.
Moreover, park guides have become important role models within their village communities, turning deeply hostile villagers once opposed to park management and conservation programs, to the need to conserve the habitat, in part to improved local incomes through gainful employment in local tourism development. This course will also emphasise the responsibility they have to their communities to ensure this continues, through schools, environmental awareness programmes, and an active program of park wildlife monitoring and reporting.
It is provisionally planned to cater for 25 students, of which 10 will be from Kanha, 10 from Bandavgrah and 5 from Pench under present arrangements.
The 8 week course will be structured with 3 weeks initial residential course, followed by 3 weeks of field study, concluding with a final two weeks mentoring programme alongside professional lodge naturalists in each of their regions of work. This last two weeks will facilitate further communication and English language skills of the trainees, their visitor interaction skills on the job, and engender better working relations between lodge naturalists and park guides.
The course is aimed at being funded by private donations and NGOs, with private sponsorship by Wildland Adventures and its travelers, with local lodges providing backing and support. The real cost for each student is $785 for the course which is fully residential. In addition, a stipend will be provided to all students payable on completion of the course. The total cost is expected to be $1000 per student, including transport expenses.