The Ecotourism Society (TES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.” On 17th and 18th of Oct a group of nature enthusiasts from Bangalore, Mysore and Coimbatore flocked together to explore the Annamalai hills in Tamil Nadu. The relationship between human beings and nature is so beautiful that anyone as young as 5 or as old as 50 years can experience and enjoy it. You need not be 21 to fall in love, just set out on an exploration in the forests and feel the magic!
Human migration began about 2 million years ago when homo erectus moved out of Africa. Finally 75,000 years ago homo sapiens ventured into Asia and other continents. Today human beings have successfully conquered all the continents in the world. Not to forget there is a vast difference between travelling then and travelling now. Then, there were less man-made resources, there was no conveyance, no speed, but today things have changed drastically. We can travel through any medium and have conquered the world. But where does all the raw material come from, our forests and our limited natural reserves! I am sure when the first wheel was invented about 3500 years BC, man certainly didn’t know “the wheel” would grow to such an extend that most human beings today could afford to have a minimum of two to four.
The point is, there has been a very strong relationship between human beings and travelling. We all love getting out of our concrete jungles to open natural spaces. We love the lush green forests and crystal clear water. I pity those who have not seen or enjoyed the beauty of nature. But for now let us concentrate on the three major concerns of mankind. According to me these are, the ever increasing population, poverty and ignorance. Ignorance towards pollution, demand of energy, supplies, development, construction and much more. We all love to play the blame game, but today let us concentrate on ourselves.
Try finding an answer to this one question-
What can I do to create a positive change and a bright, pollution free, green future?
Conservation of forests is a global cause of concern- researchers and environmentalists from all over the world have been shouting about the perils of climate change, increasing pollution, depletion of ozone layer, species extinction and destruction of biodiversity hotspots. How much does all this matter to man? The recent Chennai floods are now gaining attention with their root causes being destruction of natural drainage systems and unplanned development. The day when each one of us will be seeing such a day isn’t too far. Protection of natural biodiversity has now become critical. The stage when this was just ‘important’ and not yet critical- has gone down way back in history. It is now that all of us must join hands and think about all the small ways that will make a big difference in the future.
Here I would like to talk about one of the fun ways of contributing to this global cause. Traveling- not the commercial large scale variety tourism but sustainable eco-tourism instead! Eco-tourism if done appropriately can help save the natural biodiversity hotspots while employing and empowering the otherwise disadvantaged local communities. With many people around India failing to understand the problem of natural diversity, tourism like this can be of great help. Especially in a developing countries, it is a must-adopt model where you can conserve maximum resources while helping the indigenous groups of people sustain their natural livelihoods. Many claim that ecotourism ventures market tourism as environmentally friendly, but in fact destroy the very ecosystems they claim to protect. However, when planned and implemented properly, ecotourism can be both an effective conservation tool and successful community development model.
Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. These are but two of the various approaches to ecotourism. Let me list some more over here:
– Conserving the land and animals through active measures
– Visiting endangered and exotic lands and educating tourist of the dangers the environment faces from human development
– Giving local governments and industry a reason to be ecologically minded
– Putting money into the environment- donate for a cause!
– Raising the value of a live animal in the eyes of an increasingly apathetic world
Which approach is the best? Well that’s still not crystal clear, probably taking the best out of each or combining two approaches would work wonderfully! Ecotourism is a double edged sword- when used correctly it has amazing results including protection of biodiversity, raising the local livelihood and protecting a species but when misused and abused- it may turn out to be worst possible offender! It is for this exact reason that it must be carried out by trained and aware practitioners who know what works and what hurts.
Around the world when most ecosystems are becoming farmlands or falling victim to urbanization, the effects of depletion of biodiversity have now started showing up. Extinction of species and increasing temperature are just a few that are gaining attention. In a scenario like so it has become critical to work on appropriate models of conservation.
In essence, “Ecotourism” has become the manifestation of an economically driven world by preserving the environment and helping the indigenous communities. That being said- ecotourism as a business model has a vast potential to let you have your cake and eat it too! With the ever increasing awareness among masses, many are choosing eco-traveling while giving up on luxury travel packages. This travel is not only fun but also an experience one can never get out of luxury hotels and resorts, the adrenaline rush with the challenge of trekking through the jungle overrides the extravagance of a car. It is this “Connect with Nature” that really distils and captures the very core essence of not only Ecotourism but in fact travelling in general!
PS: This article was first published in January 2016 in Pollachi Papyrus, a magazine aiming to promote responsible tourism.