Ranthambhore National Park – a Game Reserve turned into a Wildlife Sanctuary

Ranthambhore National Park – a Game Reserve turned into a Wildlife Sanctuary

Ranthambhore National Park is one of the Tiger Reserves in India, and a world renowed destination for its large Bengal Tiger population. Ranthambore was first established in 1955 as a Governmental Game Sanctuary. But today, the Maharajas’ former hunting ground has been turned into a major wildlife sanctuary, and recently became a world class destination for nature lovers and wildlife photographers. It has an annual turnover of US$ 3 million in park fees. They get approximately 60,000 overseas visitors and 400,000 local visitors.

Through a successful phased approach, in 1973 the Indian government started Project Tiger and allotted an area of 60 km2 of the park as a tiger sanctuary. The main goal of Project Tiger was the elimination of all forms of human exploitation and biotic disturbance from the Park core area and rationalization of activities in its buffer zones.

This area later expanded to become what is now the Ranthambhore National Park. Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve today spreads over an area of 1334 km2 out of which Ranthambhore National Park forms the core with a 392 km2 area and the buffer sanctuaries – The Mansingh Sanctuary and the Kalia Devi Sanctuary forming the rest 942 km2 area. Ranthambore became a National Park in 1980 and it is today classified as IUCN category II.

Wildlife Ranthambhore is known for its Bengal tigers, and it is a popular place in India to see these animals in their natural habitat: the jungle. Major wild animal species other than tiger are the Indian leopard, carcal, nilgai, wild boar, sambar, striped hyena, sloth bear, southern plains gray langur, rhesus macaque, mugger crocodile and cheetal. Reptiles like crocodiles, turtles, Indian Rock Python and many species of snakes are found in Ranthambore.

Ranthambhore is a paradise for birds watchers : due to its varied terrain and abundance of water bodies, has an excellent population of both resident and migratory birds species. In total, a list of over 272 species have been documented.

Botanically, The park consists of typical dry deciduous elements with Anogesissus pendula forests – a dominant tree species. However,  deciduous elements could be seen in the valleys and along water bodies. The Flora of the Park is represented by 539 species of flowering plants.

There are only a few Safari Lodges in India who have applied a philosophy of linking tourism with conservation. Ranthambhore is indeed one of them. Unlike the African context , India has very small National Parks, and an extremely large human population surrounding the their areas. All operators of Lodges as well as Tours are lndian who are local residents of this area.
Project Tiger’s efforts were hampered by the complexity of a Tigers and humans co-existance, and in particular poaching. As park tourism and the population of neighbouring villages increased, there were more frequent fatal human-tiger interactions and poaching events.

Thakur Balendu Singh, belongs to a family of ex-hunters who know this area intimately. He has turned his knowledge to wildlife conservation and opened hotel Dev Vilas, fifteen years ago to be close to nature and share his passion for Ranthampore’s wild wonders with guests who come to visit Ranthambhore and stay with them. He was also appointed a Honorary Wildlife Warden for three years by the Government.

At Ranthambhore, the Ranthambhore Foundation was created so that all revenues generated by Park Fees are reinvested by the Park authorities for the Park management and maintenance and for conflicts’ resolution such as paying compensation to local residents for crop and cattle loss due to wildlife occurrence and attacks. This has led to almost zero revenge killing of animals by farmers , and reduced poaching. Also, as a correct management has created conditions for the Ranthambhore Park to accumulate a large corpus from Tourism to support conservation activities.

The Foundation works closely with Tiger Watch, a local NGO which is working at several programs, among which the reduction of man – animal conflicts, research & wildlife monitoring programs and protection anti poaching measures. Tiger Watch also operates a hostel for children of a hunter gatherer community and the first generation of children are being educated so that they will move away from their traditional livelihood which was hunting.

Tourism has definitely been an engine for developing several environmental and social projects, and has supported several conservation programs. It has also helped provide funds for improving park infrastructure, replenishing waterholes, improving patroling tracks and, providing wireless sets for the park rangers.

Several additional NGOs work for the benefit of local residents, in particular targeting women. Among others, the NGOs Dastkar and Dhonk are successful in providing development projects and alternative forms of income and employment to women.

All these activities are entirely supported through the cash flow generated by tourism and visitors entry fees to the Park. The Park collects the fees and then redirects it to the NGO’s and other conservation activities.

Today, Ranthambhore National Park is a showcase and a model of partnership between an lodge owner, the Government Authority and NGOs working together and creating synergies for wildlife conservation and community development. This model is in the process of being further strengthened to include more like-minded organisations and individuals joining efforts for a purpose.

We believe that their is strength in numbers and that if more organisations and individual join this cause the park will be well protected.

The establishment of additional partnerships with other authorities and organisations, in particular with other park management bodies and community development organisations, could enable additional tour operators to join, enlarge or replicate this model of collaboration.

This could encourage a broader knowledge sharing process at a regional and national level and might encourage tour operators activities towards a direction which amplifies and increases the benefits generated by tourism, and supports at the same time several national parks and surrounding local communities.

A partnership with another national park region in India could be a way to transfer experience from this example.

Building up Ecotourism supporting National Parks in Slovakia

Slovakia is a country in central Europe with large amounts of forest cover. 26% of Slovakia’s land is protected, of which 6-7% are national parks and 2% are core zones. Slovakia hosts one of the very few remaining wilderness areas in Europe, in which bears can roam freely without human interference. Since 1990 the number of trees cut down in forests and national parks has increased by 75%. In the Low Tatras National Park alone, satellite images show that it has lost more than 70km2 of old forest due to logging. Ecotourism has been identified as a promising way to stop the extensive logging, provide economic opportunities for rural communities and strengthen conservation initiatives. Aevis n.o., a Slovak environmental foundation has established itself as a leader in this new ecotourism movement, providing education material, support and ideas on how to develop ecotourism as an economic alternative to logging and a means to strengthen conservation and nature protection initiatives of the flora and fauna of Slovakia’s forests. Aevis has introduced some initial ecotourism offers such as wolf tracking tours on horseback or guided ornithological tours. The current legislation in Slovakia does not sanction logging in protected areas and unfortunately the conditions currently do not support ecotourism development, due to strong governmental restrictions, e.g. against guided tours in national parks. Therefore, currently only very few isolated ecotourism offers exist that are of supportive character to national parks.

The project team (from right to left): Diana Körner (LT&C-project leader), Erik Baláž (filmmaker), Tomáš Vida (Aevis-project manager), Peter Prokosch (LT&C)

LT&C is part of a project led by the Aevis n.o., funded by the EEA Norway grants under the Active Citizens Fund – Slovakia grant program, which aims to tackle this challenge to strengthen ecotourism development in natural areas in Slovakia. Part of the project is also the WWF Slovakia, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Pro Nature, the INESS institute and the NGO Via Iuris.

Wilderness in the Tatra national park

Based on a four-pillar approach – Law & legislation; Concepts & strategies; Data & research and activation campaign – the project aims at positively impacting the legislative framework by providing accurate, relevant data and arguments to support ecotourism. Thereby the project focuses on two areas in Slovakia of major potential – Banska Bystrica in Central Slovakia and Snina in the East including the Poloniny national park  Slovakia Paradise national park,  Tatra national park and Poľana mountains protected landscape area.

LT&C is supporting the project in the data and research component, by developing a practical handbook for its Slovak partners, which will highlight best practice cases from LT&C-Examples (and beyond) of financing mechanisms, products, education and certification efforts that foster ecotourism development in national parks.

This document will be developed based on an initial study tour through the main areas of concern in Slovakia in September 2019 (visits of protected areas and national parks, as well as meetings with numerous stakeholders) and in consultation with the project partners. The project foresees a workshop in May 2020 to present the results. This workshop will take place back-to-back with the next Annual General Meeting of LT&C and will provide an opportunity for LT&C members to visit some of the promising ecotourism sites and offers in Slovakia and engage with the project partners.

Success for Iceland: Vatnajökull National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage – Is the Highland National Park next?

At the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in July in Baku the Vatnajökull National Park was approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as follows: Vatnajökull National Park – dynamic nature of fire and ice (Iceland) — This iconic volcanic region covers an area of over 1,400,000 ha, nearly 14% of Iceland’s territory. It numbers ten central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial. Two of these are among the most active in Iceland. The interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the jökulhlaup – a sudden flood caused by the breach of the margin of a glacier during an eruption. This recurrent phenomenon has led to the emergence of unique sandur plains, river systems and rapidly evolving canyons. Volcanic areas are home to endemic groundwater fauna that has survived the Ice Age.

Fjallsárlón. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

Snorri Baldursson, the author of the most comprehensive illustrated description of Iceland’s nature (Lífríki Islands), has worked several years for achieving this success for Iceland. The protected area history started already in 1967 when the Icelandic government, in cooperation with WWF and involvement of Sir Peter Scott, established the Skaftafell National Park, which in 2008 became part of the much larger Vatnajökull National Park. Another part of the history began in 1997 when the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) was established with the primary goal of establishing a national park in the highlands. The catalyst was a plan by the government to build a huge hydropower complex for a new aluminium smelter in Eastern Iceland, damning major glacial rivers running north and east from the Vatnajökull Glacier. The campaign, which was supported among others by WWF, Bjørk and other outstanding members of Iceland’s society, resulted in half a success: The establishment of the Vatnajökull National Park. However, an aluminium smelter was built in Reidafjördur and a related huge power plant was realised in the highlands. The establishment of the Vatnajökul national park in 2008 can be seen as a kind of compensation for the loss of parts of the wilderness in the highlands and therefore was supported by the aluminium company Alcoa.

Langisjór. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

However, in 2015 INCA (a member of LT&C) and Landvernd joined forces. Their common and continuous goal is to complete the success story and get the entire Highlands of Iceland designated as a national park! Meanwhile, the former common campaigner of INCA and Landvernd, the present Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, who recently applauded the decision of getting Vatnajökull National Park on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, still has to complete his main task. As stated in the coalition agreement the present government is committed to “establish a national park in the central highland region of the country”. And further: “this will be done in consultation with a committee composed of members of all political parties, the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources, the local authorities, nature-conservation and outdoor-life associations and other players. The possibility of establishing national parks in other regions will also be examined.”

This provides a promising outlook to become an even greater success story of Iceland than the listening of Vatajökul National Park as a World Heritage site. It would be the perfect gift to the world from Iceland when the present UN Decade of Biodiversity will be concluded in 2020. LT&C has profiled this initiative and found out during a workshop attached to the LT&C-Annual Meeting in Iceland in 2017, that the campaign was supported by Iceland’s entire tourism industry. This will be a great LT&C-Example, where tourism supported the establishment of a huge new national park.

Project on protected areas-related ecotourism in Slovakia has started

Last week, a delegation of Linking Tourism & Conservation (LT&C) together with its partner, the Aevis n.o., visited three national parks and one protected landscape area in Slovakia. This was the start of a joint project, supported by the EEA Norway grants under the Active Citizens Fund – Slovakia grant programme. It aims to provide recommendations and lessons learned from other parts of the world on how conditions for ecotourism can be improved so that national parks and tourism businesses benefit.

The first visited was the Poloniny national park and an attached nature reserve. Thereafter we came to the Slovakia Paradise national park, then to the Tatra national park, and finally, we studied also the Poľana mountains protected landscape area. We had the opportunity to met with representatives of the protected area management as well as from tourism businesses and agencies focusing on ecotourism. Major insights into the challenges were collected the national parks are faced with. And ecotourism is just in its infancies and faces several governmental restrictions making it difficult to develop and be of a supportive character to national parks.

The study tour and the way forward was concluded in a joint workshop held in Zvolen, where also other partners of the project, WWF, Pro Nature, the INESS Institute and the Via Iuris NGO, participated.

More information about the nature and progress of the project we will provide soon. Members of LT&C may note already the dates of our Annual General Meeting in 2020: It is planned for the time MAY 20-24 in SLOVAKIA and will be combined with workshops and excursions related to the project.

The project team (from right to left): Diana Körner (LT&C-project leader), Erik Baláž (filmmaker), Tomáš Vida (Aevis-project manager), Peter Prokosch (LT&C)
Poľana mountains protected landscape area
Slovakien Paradise national park
Director Tomáš Dražil explains his Slovakien Paradise national park
Tatra national park
Wilderness in Tatra national park