Tigers Faced With Tourism Threat In BRT Wildlife Sanctuary
By Joseph Hoover
Karnataka’s wildlife is faced with a paradoxical situation. While the tigers are being hunted for its pelt and body parts in the Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks, the critically endangered species is on the road to recovery in the BRT wildlife sanctuary.
The population, a dismal 11 at the turn of the millennium, has increased to an encouraging and sustainable 30. This has been established through genetic studies undertaken by Centre for Cell and Mollecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad.
When our flagship species has recovered from a vulnerable position, more so in a fragile eco-system which has been under severe pressure from the dependency of local people and their livestock, should the Karnataka government open the doors for eco-tourism in this sanctuary?
The Karnataka forest department has been under duress from the powers-that-be to accommodate the wishes of Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) to start eco-tourism activities in BRT for the development of tribals (Soligas). Intriguingly, the Karnataka chief minister Mr Yeddyurrappa, who holds the forest portfolio, had suggested that permission be granted for eco-tourism and participatory forest management on two occasions.
In the first instance, the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Chamarajnagar, had quashed the proposal, deeming it would impact the already fragmented critical wildlife habitat. The issue had been buried until last week, when the forest minister apparently again recommended the case. We are told that the DCF has again refused permission (February 28, 2010). He has written to the Chief Wildlife Warden (Karnataka), strongly suggesting that the proposal should not be considered in the interest of the wildlife in BRT.
Interestingly, the eco-tourism initiative has been driven by Dr H Sudarshan, a national award winner for his contribution to the cause of tribal development in and around BRT. He does have the interests of the well being of the soligas at heart. He understands that wildlife tourism, which has been raking in dollars, could sustain the VGKK. But should he overlook the predicament of our dwindling wildlife and shrinkin habitats?
Dr Sudarshan has sought permission for taking tourists on jeep safaris and treks in designated trekking trails in the sanctuary with trained tribal guides. In his letter to Mr I B Srivatsava, Principal Chief Conservatior of forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, dated Nov 6, 2007, he has written: “For this initiative to take shape and to offer visitors a first-hand experience of the sanctuary’s wilderness, we request your good offices and the KFD for the necessary Government Order (GO) for VGKK to practice and develop eco-tourism in BRT.”
“The Deputy Conservator of Forests, on receiving the proposal from his seniors, had written: ‘The BRT wildlife sanctuary has a series of fragile eco-systems in existence. The rebuilding process with respect to tiger population in the sanctuary has already been initiated and the increase in tiger population (30) has already been investigated through genetic studies by CCMB, Hyderabad. Further increased dependency on natural resources by the local people and changes in consumption patterns are causing greater demographic impacts in BRT.
“The resource impoverished communities have therefore begun to exert greater pressure directly and indirectly on forest and wildlife. Also, the sustained inflow of tourists to BRT temple through the year and to the K Gudi unit of Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd have created tremendous pressure. There always has been serious conflict between tourism and conservation interests of protected areas.
“The paradigm for decision to have eco-tourism or not to have eco-tourism must be that tourism exists for the protected areas and not that the protected areas are for tourism. The Range Forest Officer and Assistant Conservator of Forests, Yellandur, recommend not to allow any new tourism initiative in BRT wildlife sanctuary, based on the situation prevailing at the field level.
“Further, the Government Order issued by the Government of Karnataka vide its Order No FEE GO FAP 2003, dated 28-08-2004 on Wilderness Tourism Policy does not permit any other agency other than government/semi-government organizations to undertake eco-tourism initiative in the Protected Areas.”
The Deputy Conservator of Forests has given his unbiased opinion. If the Karnataka forest minister overrides this decision, he would be imprudent. For, there is fear that eco-tourism operators, who have already bought huge tracts of land in the vicinity of the sanctuary, which is bafflingly home to five thriving coffee and tea estates within its enfolds, would seek permission to take guests/ tourists on wildlife safaris. It could lead to chaos in an already chaotic system.