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Indian Court Lifts Tourist Ban in Deep Tiger Reserve Areas

India’s Supreme Court allowed tourists in deeper parts of tiger reserves, almost three months after barring their entry into breeding grounds to conserve the endangered species.

The top court today permitted tourism in 20 percent of the core areas of the nation’s 41 tiger sanctuaries, approving the government’s new guidelines that regulate tourism.

India, home to the world’s largest number of wild tigers, is trying to protect the big cats from habitat destruction and poachers engaged in illegal trade of skin and body parts. Travel Operators for Tigers, a lobby group, says a ban would dent India’s tourism industry, which the government says brings in more than $100 billion in revenue and 17 million overseas visitors annually.

Ajay Dubey, a citizen who filed a petition in the Supreme Court, wants a tourism ban in critical tiger habitat. Conservationists and tour operators say ensuring local people benefit financially from protecting tigers is key to persuading them not to work with poachers or encroach on reserves.

The Supreme Court banned tiger tourism on July 24. National Tiger Conservation Authority says the wild-cat population in reserves was 1,706 at the end of 2010. India’s tiger count has fallen from about 40,000 a century ago, according to the government’s Project Tiger, a campaign started in 1973.

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