'Travel responsibly, respect indigenous communities'

May22 is World Biological Diversity Day   New Delhi, May 21 (IANS): Conserving biodiversity and promoting sustainable tourism by working with local communities needs to be the focus of the tourism industry, say researchers.   In the Hindu Kush Himalayas alone, nearly 71.5 million tourists visit every year, say researchers of an international institute.   They say tourism in the Hindu Kush plays a potentially significant role in addressing poverty through the creation of jobs, skills and income for thousands of people.   Conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity is essential for providing long-term benefits to the region's residents, say researchers Janita Gurung and Anu Kumari Lama of Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod).   While Gurung is a Biodiversity Conservation and Management Specialist with the institute, Lama is a Tourism Specialist.   This year's theme of International Day for Biological Diversity that falls on Monday is 'Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism'.   The researchers say the scenic landscapes, forests, lakes, mountains and farmlands attract many tourists to the Hindu Kush -- one of the world's most diverse mountains systems spanning 4.3 million sq km of land across eight countries from Afghanistan to Myanmar.   It is a storehouse of biodiversity -- ranging from the highly elusive snow leopard to the markhor, a wild goat famed for its twisted horns, and to the one-horned rhinoceros.   The snow leopard is found in the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Himalaya ranges spanning across Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.   Although an elusive animal, the snow leopard draws many tourists to these mountain ranges, say the researchers in a write-up 'Biodiversity and sustainable tourism in the Hindu Kush Himalaya'.   The naturally dammed lakes of Band-e-Amir National Park in Afghanistan attract tourists from all over the world to the country's Bamyan Province.   In Pakistan's Gilgit Baltistan, they say, the prospect of trophy hunting markhor, a wild goat famed for its twisted horns, attracts many tourists each year.   In China's Hongyuan Grassland in Sichuan Province, highland pastures showcase aspects of the nomadic Tibetan lifestyle to tourists.   The Valley of Flowers in India's Uttarakhand attracts numerous tourists with its diversity of flowers, of which there are more than 500 species that include wild poppies, asters and orchids.   The one-horned rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park in Nepal attracts more than 100,000 tourists every year, they say.   In Bhutan's Phobjika Valley, the black-necked crane festival, organised annually since 1998, plays an important role in attracting tourists to the country, particularly in November.   Inle Lake, with its stilt houses, floating markets and floating gardens, is an important tourist destination in Myanmar.   The earning from the tourism also helps in saving the indigenous species, the Icimod paper said.   The researchers say revenue from tourism has contributed to reviving populations of markhors in Pakistan, rhinos in Nepal and black-necked cranes in Bhutan.   Respect indigenous peoples and local communities, say the researchers. Residents of the Hunza Valley in Pakistan rely on organically grown local food, which is believed to contribute to their long life and good health.   Hunza apricots, in particular, are now popular among visitors to the valley and a taste of traditional apricot soup Haneetze Duodo is an essential culinary element in the valley tour itinerary.   Almost two centuries ago, the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya learned to train the roots of rubber trees to build sturdy bridges that could survive many years in a wet and humid environment. Some of these bridges continue to survive, and today, experiencing these 'living' bridges is a must for many tourists visiting Meghalaya.   Travel responsibly and don't leave footprints.   The practice of collecting wild plants and animals either by local communities to sell to tourists for food or souvenirs, or by the tourists themselves, is also likely to put pressure on biodiversity, the researchers believe.   Mushroom, fern, bamboo shoot, fish, and wild honey are some natural products that, if not sustainably harvested, face the threat of resource depletion.   Solid waste and its mismanagement are serious threats resulting from tourism in the Hindu Kush, the paper said.