Balancing Act: Ensuring Economic Growth and Saving South Asia’s Wildlife for a Livable Planet

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Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Credit: World Bank

As the sun set behind the hills of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Anwar was driving back his rattling open gypsy a happy man. Having done two trips to the tiger reserve and a few good tips, he made $33 today. He couldn’t help but recall his childhood when his father was struggling to make ends meet, earning less than $2.25 a day. At that time, Anwar’s family’s land was degraded, they had no fresh water, and the few crops they had were often devoured by wild deer. Today, Anwar and his family have a much brighter future. A change of fortune came when his community supported the decision for declaring the forests as a tiger reserve/that attracts many visitors and has created economic opportunities for the community. Anwar and his community are active partners in wildlife conservation.

Not long before, conservationists were fighting a losing battle

While Anwar’s story is inspiring, this wasn’t always the case. Habitat loss, conflict over land use, unplanned development of roads and settlements, human-wildlife conflict, and demand for wildlife parts challenge conservation areas and wildlife. Poor ecological conditions and degraded forests led to scarcity of water, firewood, and other forest produce and, as a result, fewer opportunities for jobs and livelihoods. Many youngsters had to drop out of school in search of livelihoods, which were often far from home, and some turned to illegal wildlife trade. Poaching reached alarming levels because of increasing international demand for wildlife products and retaliatory killings increased as wildlife took to crop raiding and preying on livestock.

Wildlife tourism around Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India contributes over $40 million to the local economy.

Wildlife resurgence boosts local economies

For many, wildlife conservation and protected areas have become engines of economic growth. This is a global phenomenon. A 2018 U.S. National Park Service (NPS) report in the United States found that spendings by about 4 million visitors to Yosemite National Park supported 6,184 jobs in the local area.  A whopping 1.9 million tourists a year in Kruger National Park contribute over US$1.5 billon to South Africa’s GDP. Wildlife tourism around Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India contributes over $40 million to the local economy. This has generated a range of livelihood opportunities in the tourism-oriented supply chains and jobs in the hospitality industry such as drivers and nature guides. Visitors to protected areas contribute to the local economy and at the same time help improve park management. Chitwan National Park in Nepal achieved zero poaching for three years in a row (2018-20).

Establishing and maintaining protected areas and wildlife reserves is crucial for safeguarding biodiversity. A 2019 study of 10 tiger reserves in India found that the monetary value of benefits accruing from protected areas ranges from $600 million to $2 billion annually, translating into $5,000 to $9,000 per hectare per year. Protected areas are also a huge store of carbon and continue to act as carbon sinks, thereby serving as nature-based solutions to climate change. These benefits of wildlife are seldom recognized and often not measured.

Partnerships and collaboration are key to wildlife conservation

Reflecting on Wildlife Conservation Day, much more can be done to save the wildlife for a livable planet. Decades of struggles in wildlife conservation has shown the value of partnering with a range of stakeholders, including local communities, scientists, researchers, conservationists and even the hotel industry. Involving local communities in conservation efforts fosters a sense of stewardship and community-based initiatives empower people to protect wildlife as they realize the ecological and economic benefits of a balanced ecosystem. Investing in scientific research and monitoring programs helps us better understand wildlife populations, their behavior, and the impact of conservation efforts. In India, a partnership among the Wildlife Institute of India; the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; the National Highway Authority; and the World Bank has led to a widely used technical manual for building wildlife-friendly infrastructure through forests and protected areas, which has been invaluable for crafting effective conservation strategies.

Photo Credit: World Bank
Photo Credit: World Bank

There are also fantastic opportunities for governments to partner with each other to protect wildlife and promote the sustainable use of ecosystems as countries in South Asia share biodiversity-rich transboundary ecosystems. The terai forests between India and Nepal harbors iconic species such as tigers, elephants, rhinos and dolphins; the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka is rich in marine biodiversity; and the Sundarbans between Bangladesh and India is the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem. These are all areas where regional cooperation can conserve wildlife and provide a range of ecosystem services both for local communities and for conserving global public goods.

Conserving wildlife is not just the domain of conservationists; it is a collective responsibility that extends to communities, policymakers, and society at large. The benefits of successful wildlife conservation go far beyond ecological health to enriching the cultural, economic, and aesthetic fabric of human societies, all of which contribute to making a livable planet.


Anupam Joshi

Senior Environmental Specialist

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