Indian Tigers under stress due to tourism

Unsustainable wildlife tourism causes physiological stress in tigers in protected areas

By Author  |  Published: 16th Jul 2019  12:17 amUpdated: 16th Jul 2019  6:01 pm
Indian Tigers
Unsustainable wildlife tourism causes physiological stress in tigers in protected areas. —File Photo

Hyderabad: A new study taken up by scientists from the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LACONES)-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) has revealed that Indian tigers are under stress due to tourism-related activities.

The latest study, published in the journal Conservation Physiology this month by a group of researchers headed by Dr. G Umapathy, has detected tourism-induced stress in tigers in two major tiger reserves in the country.

The study examined the relationship between environment disturbance caused by human activity and its impact on the physiological stress levels in two tiger populations in central India at Bandhavgarh (BTR) and Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR), Madhya Pradesh.

The study suggests that unsustainable wildlife tourism causes distinct physiological stress in tigers in protected areas.

“One of our previous studies from the same group has shown that recently introduced tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan failed to reproduce effectively presumably due to high levels of stress caused by high environmental pollution due to human activity,” researchers said.

The study recommends a strict regulation of vehicular traffic, number of tourist vehicles and shifting of artificial waterholes away from tourist roads and reducing other anthropogenic disturbances, including relocation of villages from the core area of tiger reserves.

To measure the stress levels, the researchers zeroed in on the faecal matter of the tigers at both the reserves. According to CCMB, the research team assessed concentrations of faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM), which is a marker of stress in individual tigers. The CCMB study said that India harbours close to 60 per cent of the current global free-roaming tiger population. But the population suffers from several threats due to human activity like
poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation.

Chronically high glucocorticoid levels can negatively impact growth, reproductive success, immunity, and cause muscular atrophy among tigers. The study team collected a total of 341 faecal samples from both the reserves during tourism and non-tourism periods and data on various disturbances including tourism activities, like number of vehicles and visitors.

The study found significantly higher fGCM concentrations in tigers at both the reserves during the tourism period compared to the non-tourism period. Further, the study found that a significant correlation between fGCM concentrations and number of vehicles / disturbance level in these tiger reserves.

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