Bandipur: Ecotourist, tread carefully

Our demand for wildlife holidays has caused the forest department to keep parks like Bandipur Tiger Reserve open to visitors even during summer. In Bandipur, which receives around 400 tourists a day, these footprints add up to a massive but unseen impact on wildlife and their habitat, write M D Madhusudan and Pavithra Sankaran

Human beings have always looked upon everything in nature as resources. Forests continue to provide us a staggering range of raw and finished products. Wildlife too, are resources. And there are different ways of using these resources—we hunt deer for meat, trap tigers for skin, poach elephants for ivory. We cut trees to cook dinner, to make chairs, to lay fashionable floors.

We mine ore under forests and use the iron to build bridges. These are several ways of using our forest resources. But over time, there has come a small but growing realisation that we cannot afford to care only about the commodified value of these resources. More importantly perhaps, we need to value and preserve them as living resources.

This is where tourism offers us a very different way of valuing and utilising forest resources. The consumption of wood, meat and ore may sustain livelihoods and foster commerce. But such use also renders a resource finite. The recognition that these uses leave us with less of the resource for the future, has prompted us to explore sustainable ways of using nature to support livelihoods and further commerce. Tourism, as opposed to mining or logging, does not involve extraction and seems the ideal way of keeping a resource intact, while continuing to derive economic benefits.

Ecotourism, goes one step further. Not only does it mean commercial but non-extractive use of forests, but also sharing of economic benefits with local communities. To be equitable and successful, ecotourism also has to offset the loss of livelihood for people who depend on extractive use of the forest. Unless a different way of making a livelihood is offered to the villagers who gather honey, collect firewood or graze cattle in the forest, preventing them from removing these products from the forest is not just unfair; it simply will not work.

If that is the philosophy of ecotourism, how has it fared, in practice? Are we, to paraphrase a government slogan, “taking only memories and leaving only footprints” when we holiday in our wildlife sanctuaries and national parks?

Footprints we leave behind

Let us look a little more closely at our footprints. We leave them behind in the form of large, old trees cut to make roads within forests so that we can go see wildlife. In the form of vast numbers of vehicles entering sanctuaries and parks on these roads each day. In creating and maintaining artificial ‘view lines’ on either side of forest roads by regularly clearing natural plant growth. In fact, our demand for wildlife holidays has caused the forest department to keep parks like Bandipur Tiger Reserve open to visitors even during the summer, taking staff away from fire prevention and control. We even demand evening campfires in our resorts, burning wood cut from the very forests we have come to see. In a place like Bandipur, which receives around 400 tourists each day, these footprints add up to a massive but unseen impact on wildlife and their habitat.

What about local communities?

As for sharing the economic benefits, we must ask if and how the rapid growth of wildlife tourism has benefitted local people. Your weekend may have been made memorable by the herd of elephants you saw on the morning safari. But did you know the same placid herd had just then ambled back from a raid in a jowar field right behind your resort, ruining a farmer for the year? In fact, the man who carried away your breakfast plate may have tilled the very land your resort stands on; unable to bear the losses from crop raiding elephants year after year, he may have sold it.

While local communities certainly have an impact on the forests they depend on for firewood and grazing, they also subsidise conservation in ways that have almost never been measured. Were it not for the immense tolerance of local people, there would be far fewer of these wild animals for us to see. As tourists who derive the benefits of sanctuaries and parks, do we not have a responsibility to share in their costs?
One way of offsetting costs is to provide employment to local people. Few, if any, resorts make it a policy to hire people from villages around the resort; it is far cheaper to employ a migrant labourer. A noteworthy exception is the government-run Jungle Lodges and Resorts where around 80 per cent of the staff in most of their properties are from local communities.

The form of ecotourism we encounter today achieves none of its original goals. In fact, it enlarges our footprint on the forest and totally ignores the second commandment of giving back to local communities. But this can change. Ecotourism businesses, like any other, care about consumers, not crusaders. You and I can ask the right questions of our resorts, demand responsible behaviour and achieve a change that no amount of regulation can bring about.

WHAT YOU CAN ‘RESORT’ TO…

Learn a little about the park or sanctuary you are going to before you get there. This will enrich your experience because you will know what to look for and ask about.

Talk to local people. If there are local people employed at your resort, ask them about the place, how it used to be and how it has changed. Try to find out how the park and tourism in the area has benefitted or affected them.

Ask questions to your resort: where is the wood for your camp-fire coming from? Do they have guides? Are their employees hired from local communities? Are the vegetables in your meal bought locally from farmers?

Demand a well-trained guide. Sadly, most resorts have no trained guides or only very poorly-trained ones. Good guiding is not only about showing you elephants and tigers, it is also about revealing the small but fascinating inhabitants of the forest like birds, butterflies, spiders and their secret lives to you.

The rules in parks and sanctuaries are meant to keep you safe from potentially dangerous wildlife. Please follow them for your own safety and for the safety of wildlife. Do not drive above the speed limit, do not feed animals and certainly do not get out of your vehicle in a forest.

From Deccan Herald

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Tourists help keep poachers away from tiger reserves

NEW DELHI: Opposing the ban on tourists from core regions of tiger reserves proposed by the environment ministry, Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) — a campaign spearheaded by international and national travel operators — has said that wildlife tourism, on the contrary, was saving forests and tigers.

The organization added that tourism ensured better security for tigers, and was the best anti-poaching mechanism even as it made forest personnel “highly and often uncomfortably accountable”.

TOFT chairman Julian Mathew said the agency would take up the issue with the ministries of tourism and environment to ensure better implementation of rules and regulations, adding that a ban on wildlife tourism was not the answer.

According to recent statistics, tiger numbers have come down from an estimated 3,642 in 2002 to 1,411 in February 2008. Experts say that actual numbers could be even lower. A recent tourism ministry study had shown that nearly 70% of resorts outside Corbett National Park were venues for weddings and parties rather than eco-tourism.

In a statement, TOFT pointed out that despite poor tourism practises being followed in the national park, it continued to be the “most visited” park in India and still had the highest number of tigers. It added that Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve had the heaviest density of tigers in its main Tala tourism zone and received 45,000 visits a year.

“When sub-adults leave this tourist zone seeking their own ranges in buffer zone forests, they get lost, poached or poisoned. Ranthambhore, with its 450 sq km and estimated 35-38 tigers, finds 22-23 (two-thirds) tigers in ranges that fall within the much smaller 130 sq km of the tourism zone. These facts suggest that the best tiger security and habitat exist in tourism zones, and tigers and prey sense it,” the statement said.

Highlighting the fact that good tourism practises not only provide a means of legitimate livelihood to people living in and around tiger reserves, TOFT said if it were not for tourism bringing economic value to the forest area, it would be sacrificed for mining, farming or industry.

Emphasizing that the alternative was to ensure implementation of rules and regulations, Mathew gave the instance of Madhya Pradesh’s ecosensitive zone regulations that have been stuck in the Supreme Court since 2006. “Tiger tourism is the best anti-poaching unit, operating vehicles watching for eight hours a day, deflecting poachers, loggers and grazers from being there,” Mathew said.

From TOI

Anamalai Tiger Reserve re-opening today

Tirupur: The Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR), of which the Amaravathi Crocodile farm in Udumalpet is a part, will be reopened to the visitors from May 1. Official sources told reporters here that the sanctuary was closed for summer from March 16 fearing possibilities of forest fire breakouts.

The sanctuary was scheduled to be re-opened on April 15 initially but got postponed due to the continuation of dry spells in the region.

Hot conditions

Forest officials said that with relief in hot conditions over the last few days and considering the requests from the tourists, it had been decided to re-open the sanctuary on Saturday, officical sources added.

From THE HINDU

Ooty: Forest officials rescue deer

First Aid: An injured deer being treated by forest officials in Gudalur on Sunday.

Udhagamandalam: A helping hand was extended to an injured deer at Gudalur on Sunday.

Sources in the forest department told The Hindu here on Monday that an injured deer had been spotted frequently over the past few days in Maakamullah area of Gudalur.

The animal which seemed to be suffering a great deal had collapsed on Sunday.

People in the vicinity had taken the plight of the deer to the notice of forest officials who rushed to the spot along with a veterinarian and provided first aid .Since it was very weak glucose was also given.

After the animal recovered it was shifted to Theppakadu inside the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve for further treatment.

From THE HINDU

Coimbatore: Elephant Pongal enthrals tourists at Top Slip

In view of celebration, elephant safari was suspended for a day

Pollachi: Feeding of trained 16 kumki elephants at the Elephant Pongal celebrations proved to be a thrilling experience for hundreds of tourists who thronged Top Slip in Anaimalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) on Saturday.

JUMBO LINE UP: Pachyderms at the Top Slip reception in Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, near Pollachi, on Saturday for the Elephant Pongal celebration. — Photo: Special Arrangement

Coinciding with the Pongal celebrations and week-end holiday, the forest officials organised the celebrations wherein of the 21 camp elephants, 16 including three calves of the Forest Department took part. The elephants were given a bath at the Kozhikamudhi and Varagliyar elephant camps and the pachyderms that had sandal and kumkum on their forehead were brought to the reception area in Top Slip.

The pachyderms accompanied by the mahouts and cavadis (handlers), enthralled hundreds of tourists. A conservationist and keen wildlife enthusiast Saravanan had sponsored the Elephant Pongal.

Besides pongal, sugarcane and other items for the celebration, he had sponsored new uniform for the mahouts and tribal watchers. Field Director of ATR H. Basuvaraju, Range Officer S. Thangaraj Paneerselvam and Forest Veterinarian N.S. Manoharan took part.

In view of the celebration, the elephant safari in the sanctuary was suspended for a day to give rest to the pachyderms.

Officials along with tourists offered pongal, jaggery, coconut, sugarcane and banana to the elephants.

From THE HINDU

WWF to help expand China’s panda reserves

BEIJING: The World Wildlife Fund said on Thursday it planned to spend 40 million yuan (5.9 million dollars) over the next three years to increase the number of giant panda reserves in China.

The environmental group also plans to build “wildlife corridors” between the 60-plus reserves to enable the pandas to move around more freely, WWF China representative Dermot O’Gorman said.

“The only way we are going to protect the long-term security of the giant panda is to ensure that the existing habitat remains of high quality,” he said.

O’Gorman said WWF will try to work with local governments to reduce the impact of tourism, highways and other infrastructure on panda habitats, as well as expand a scientific monitoring system to cover all the reserves.

There are nearly 1,600 pandas living in the wild, more than three-quarters of them in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Pandas also are found in northwestern Gansu province and northern Shaanxi province.

Another 290 giant pandas are in captive-breeding programmes in China.

From TOI

Bhubaneswar: Wildlife award for Simlipal saviour

BARIPADA: For 36 years he has been guarding the forests, walking for miles even at night to protect the big cat, and has dared the bullets of marauders.

Prabir Kumar Palei, one of Project Tiger’s longest-serving foot soldiers in Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) received the Wildlife Service Award from Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary Asia magazine in Mumbai recently.

The prestigious award was presented to the forester for his monumental contribution towards the conservation of STR for over three decades. Prabir joined as a field staff in 1974 and worked under the first field director, late Padmashree Saroj Raj Choudhury.

Present field director H S Upadhyaya congratulated Palei for his splendid achievement and said, “Keep it up!” Upadhyaya feels this honour should act as an incentive for juniors to emulate. Prabir, who received a citation and a cash award of Rs 25,000, said he was the first man in his team to defy the warning of security forces and continue to stay overnight in the Upper Barha-Kamuda (UBK) range office.

“I was happy that others in my team gathered courage to wipe out the fear psychosis that was triggered by the first ever offensive by Maoists on March 28, 2009. They have joined me in my efforts to protect the tiger.” After the Maoist rampage in Simlipal, foresters were put on foot patrol only during daytime.

The citation presented said, “Prabir Kumar Palei has arrested over 100 people in a lifetime devoted to the protection of the tiger and has been attacked, ambushed and routinely threatened for his pains. But nothing is able to shake his steely resolve to protect the forest he loves. One of Project Tiger’s longest-serving foot soldiers, he joined Similipal’s frontline team in 1974.

Palei loves the forests and nothing could give away his love more than his rejection of coveted postings. He chose to be a simple foot soldier for 36 years. He had the good fortune to be mentored by Choudhury and literally walked thousands of miles on foot patrols. Palei “knows” Similipal like the back of his hand.

Despite Maoists terror, Palei and his team never buckled. The call of duty kept them ticking. With no roof over their head and only a damaged VHF communication tower to connect them with the rest of the world, he and his men returned to their post in UBK in the core of the forest. When warned by security forces against staying deep inside the forest after dark, he had responded: “Will you look after the forest?”

His mission now is to inspire new recruits who would have the requisite skills and passion to save the tiger. “Palei’s name is synonymous with Simlipal. His service is unparalleled,” said R N Marandi, another STR forester at Jashipur

From TOI