Sunday, March 2, 2008 (Bandipur)
Bandipur Tiger Reserve is situated on the busy tourism route between Mysore and Ooty. Resorts are mushrooming on the edge of the forest and there is concern that the tiger may be hounded out of one of its last hideouts by the tourists.
Beautiful Bandipur has a lot going for it when it comes to providing a safe sanctuary for the tiger. It borders three other national parks and so is largely spared the difficulty of human habitation within park limits.
Unofficial estimates put the number of tigers here at more than 80.
Bandipur is right in the middle of the tourist trail. A highway links the two important tourist destinations of Mysore and Ooty. Bandipur lies along this highway. Enormous trees are being brought down to widen the road and this will make Bandipur even more accessible.
Many visitors make it a point to stop and take a look around; there are jeep and van rides on offer. The dreaded Veerappan actually kidnapped tourists during one such ride here.
”I just got married in November. I came here with my father-in-law, mother-in-law and my husband. It was very exciting to see deer, we were not expecting,” said Karuna Gupta, tourist.
Speeding vehicles kill an average of one wild animal a month, signs indicating a speed limit or banning the use of horns are usually ignored by drivers who don’t care that they are passing through a tiger sanctuary. In total violation of laws, tourists stop their vehicles and get out and even feed the animals.
”People don’t understand and thinking that it is fun, they feed these animals. This is the reason why they come to the road. The department cannot patrol 24 hours, they have their limitations. We should see that traffic is controlled during night hours,” said B Ramalingu, Range Forest Officer, Bandipur Range.
Everybody who comes here is actually looking to enjoy the forest and the wildlife.
”We have put a cap from the department’s side after fixing the carrying capacity limit that is only so many people, only so many vehicles can go and no further people can be allowed,” said Varma, principal chief conservator of forests.
But on the ground nobody seems to be counting the visitor and vehicles. In addition to the damage it does, tourism does of course bring welcome revenue and perhaps greater awareness of the environment.
”Eco-tourism therefore if properly executed is going to end up creating jobs for these tribals and villagers. Once they have an alternate means for livelihood then they are not going to be dependent on the protected areas. And the conservation efforts will get a boost,” said villager, Ramesh.
”This whole business of saying I am hiring a driver, I am hiring a tour guide from the local population is just not enough. What we need is that these communities have to be involved in revenue sharing, and only if that happens will the local people really benefit. In these ecologically sensitive areas, tourism comes under the red category of industries so they should not be allowed and in fact they should be phased out from core or critical existing tiger habitat. Unfortunately that is not happening,” said Praveen Bhargav, Trustee, Wildlife First.
People who have lived near Bandipur for generations also don’t seem to be getting much out of the new resort culture.
”It has been of no use for people of this village – big people from outside have bought the land and built the resorts. They made the resorts, brought their own people – and gave no jobs to anybody here,” said villager, Melkamanahalli.
Bandipur is protected to some extent by being next to the Mudumulai park in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. But Mudumalai itself has an enormous number of resorts just outside the forest area.
Bandipur has not yet been commercially exploited for tourism and it needs to stay that way if the tiger is to remain safe in the park. But despite the problems, tiger sightings in Bandipur are at an all time high. There is hope for Bandipur and its tigers.
Bandipur needs careful monitoring to make sure that the tigers here do not go the Sariska way.
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