Drawing stark contrast to the official response at 11th Conference of the Contracting Parties (CoP) to Ramsar Convention taking place in Romania, a WWF case study published by the convention shows that Lake Tsomoriri which is crucial for the breeding of highly threatened Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis is under threat from unrestricted tourism activities.
©Pankaj Chandan / WWF-India
The revelation comes at loggerheads to the official report submitted by India to the convention that the condition of Ramsar sites in the country has not changed except some improvements. According to the National Report on the Implementation of The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands submitted by India, there has been no change in the ecological condition of the wetlands in the country, especially Ramsar sites during the last three years.
“Some of the wetlands have improved in its ecological character through management interventions like Chilka Lake in Orissa by opening up of mouth to allow flushing of saline water which not only helped in increasing fisheries potential, decreasing weeds but also enhanced tourism in the area, directly helping communities to raise their socio-economic status.”, says the National Report on the Implementation of The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands submitted at the convention.
However, according to the case study, the 120 km2 wide lake situated at an altitude of 4595 meters in a critical area in the migration routes of some 40 species of birds is plagued by tourist facilities built around the site without the necessary EIAs.
©Pankaj Chandan / WWF-India
Moreover, the site known to be the breeding ground of highly threatened birds like Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) and Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) is crowded by tourists right during the breeding season. Due to the unplanned tourist activities, “tourism camps have been located in areas where there is a high risk of disturbing wildlife” and “wastes, pollution, and environmental damage are increasing around trekking routes and campsites”, says the study.
The region which is also supporting rare mammals like Himalayan blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), Kiang (Equus kiang), Tibetan Wolf (Canis lupus chanko), Lynx (Lynx isabellina), and Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) has become more accessible with the presence of a metaled road.
Tourist operators often arrange jeep safari for the tourists which according to the case study, has caused “off-road driving of jeeps over the pastures causing soil compaction and damage to vegetation, reducing productivity, and opening the fragile soils to erosion. There are also reports of jeeps being used to chase kiangs and other species.”
According to an estimate, at least 20,000 tourists, both domestic and foreign, visit the lake in a year, but often the local community of nomadic shepherds called Changpas is not benefitted. Instead, the pastures for their cattle are grazed by horse packs accompanying the tourists, which results in social tension, says the study.
Read more on Ramsar CoP11 coverage by IBT