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Tourism adds stress for tigers: CCMB Study

Hyderabad: India harbors 60% of the current global free-roaming tiger population. But the population suffers from several anthropogenic threats like poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation. It has lost more than 95 percent of its global historical home range, and its extant population exists in fragmented habitats.

The latest study published in Conservation Physiology from Dr G Umapathy’s group at Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species – CCMB, Hyderabad reveals tourism-induced stress in tigers in two major tiger reserves in the country.

The study examines the relationship between anthropogenic disturbance and physiological stress levels in two tiger populations in central India in Bandhavgarh (BTR) and Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR), Madhya Pradesh. The researchers assessed concentrations of fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) – a marker of stress, in individual tigers.

Chronically elevated glucocorticoid levels can negatively impact growth, reproductive success, immunity, and cause muscular atrophy. The study team collected a total of 341 fecal samples from both reserves during tourism and non-tourism periods and data on various anthropogenic 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.

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 anthropogenic disturbance.

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

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