India Tiger Tourism

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Tourism destinations deep inside of India's tiger parks will be closed indefinitely after the Supreme Court of India ruled Tuesday to impose an interim ban on all tourism activities in core areas of tiger forests.

"(Until) final directions of the court, core areas in tiger reserves will not be used for tourism activities," the court said in the order, according to a report by the Times of India.

India is home to approximately 1,700 tigers, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That number is has dropped from more than 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century due to poaching and habitat encroachment.

Tiger parks are now set up throughout India to provide a protected environment for animals still in the wild. Resorts and villages were set up for tourists, the majority of whom are locals, to see the tiger habitats and perhaps catch a glimpse of a cat.

Now the future of tiger tourism is in question.

The ban is in place while the court considers a claim filed by a local environmentalist alleging that ecotourism was hurting the habitat and breeding grounds of the endangered species. The court is expected to release its final ruling on August 22.

Ecotourism promises to bring travelers closer to nature with minimum environmental impact. The court is investigating whether tourism in India's tiger parks is in fact low impact.

Toby Sinclair, vice president for the Ecotourism Society of India, told CNN he believes the government is allowing too many visitors into the parks.

"The eco in ecotourism has changed to economy," Sinclair said.

Last April the court ruled that all states must identify core zones and buffer zones of their tiger parks as part of a rolling effort to regulate where tourist attractions can be located, according to the Times of India report.

Tourist resorts and villages are to be located only in the buffer zones of parks. States are reluctant to identify buffer zones, however, for fear it will displace existing resorts, the Times reported.

Sinclair, however, doesn't think buffer zones will solve the problems.

"Buffer zones are a step toward the solution," Sinclair said. "But the question remains 'Who is going to manage the buffer zones?'"

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