Responsible Wildlife Viewing
By Aritra Kshettry (Centre for Wildlife Studies-Bangalore, Asian Conservation Foundation)
Haven’t we all grown up watching discovery channel and animal planet? It is so amazing to view a pride of lions or a Royal Bengal tiger or an elephant on television. For those who want to experience wildlife up-close, the advent and growth of wildlife tourism means we can watch our favourite wild animals through our camera lenses, binoculars or simply our eyes. Forested areas such as National Parks and Tiger Reserves have become popular vacation destinations also for the entire family. But amidst the thrill of watching wild animals, are we impinging on their space?
‘Dushtu’ is one of my study animals in the Dooars region of North Bengal – A middle aged tusk-less male, generally very calm and well behaved. I know this because I have spent days watching him during my surveys. Never have I seen him to be aggressive towards me or my field crew. Sometimes I observe him from the main road bisecting the forests and I am quickly joined by a very enthusiastic assortment of people. Some of them are tourists in safari vehicles, some passersby, local youths on two wheelers and wildlife photographers on vehicles. Between observing Dustu’s activities, I take some time off to observe the people who are watching him. While everybody loves elephants, some people are happy taking pictures from their vehicles, some people shout out of excitement as this would have been their first sighting of a wild elephant. The wildlife photographers park their vehicles very close to the animal to get that perfect award winning shot. However, the most dangerous are the people who want to capture this moment in their mobile phone cameras and in order to do so, they need to go dangerously close to the animal. On one occasion things quickly turned ugly when two youths on a bike got too close to him, he mock-charged at them and after the boys fled leaving the bike, the bike was smashed to pulp by the elephant.
Elephants are gentle creatures but are potentially dangerous and if we go too close to them they will charge and attack with fatal consequences. So, it is much more enjoyable and safe for everyone to give the elephants their space. When we are watching them from our vehicles, it is advisable to park the vehicles at some distance from the animal and if it is trying to cross, we should not block its path by parking right in front of them. Like elephants, all animals enjoy their space and going too close to them is not advisable. A pair of binoculars is an easy way to observe them closely and cameras with zoom lenses enable us to get close-up shots from safe distances. Making a lot of noise often disturbs and distracts the animals; also, the experience of watching wildlife is much richer when done in silence. I have been following these simple thumb rules and I have not had any untoward experience with wildlife so far especially elephants. If we keep these simple things in mind the next time we visit the forests then we shall enjoy even more and more importantly, not at the expense of the beautiful animals we love to see.