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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tourists have to wait as forest department ropes in local community to run tiger reserves

K A Shaji, TNN | Oct 25, 2012, 12.43AM IST COIMBATORE: As the Supreme Court has directed that all tourism activities in tiger reserves be strictly in accordance with the notification on tiger conservation issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) last week, with the active involvement of traditional forest dwellers, authorities of three tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu have started probing steps to initiate community-based eco-tourism to ensure economic benefits to various aborigine communities which live in the peripheries of the reserves. As a first step, officials of Anamalai Tiger Reserve led by Field Director Rajeev Sreevastava, have visited the adjoining Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and collected details of the participatory forest management being practiced there with the involvement of tribals. Field directors of Mudumalai and Kalakkad Mudanthurai have also been directed to visit various reserves in the neighbouring states to study the way the community is involved in tourism activities. Sreevastava said he visited Parambikulam as part of a joint border inspection to study facilities there. I have congratulated them for the commendable work being undertaken there,'' he said. However, Sreevastava denied newspaper reports that all three tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu and Parambikulam in Kerala would be reopened for tourists next week. This is not possible. We have to adhere to the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit. It involves a time-consuming process to earmark 20 percent of the reserves for tourism and operate activities in a way benefiting forest dwellers and not impacting wild animals,'' he said. Nature lovers will have to wait for a few more weeks to gain entry into the permissible parts of Mudumalai, Anamalai and Kalakkad Mudanthurai tiger reserves in Tamil Nadu. Apart from identifying 20 percent area for tourism, chief wildlife wardens and field directors of the reserves have to work out the "site-specific carrying capacity" of each reserve before opening it up to visitors. The task is more complex for forest authorities due to the stringent regulations for tourism within the reserves while allowing "ecologically sustainable and nature-friendly tourism" in 20% of the core areas. The guidelines warn against allowing "mass tourism" in tiger reserves and calls for tourist activities that will ensure "sustainable, equitable and community-based efforts that will improve the living standards of local, host communities living on the fringes of reserves. Without implementing these provisions, how we can allow tourism,'' asks Sreevastava. The guidelines have also refused expansion of infrastructure for tourism in the core and critical tiger habitats. "The buffer forest areas should be developed as wildlife habitats with the active involvement of local people living in such areas," it says. The areas in which the local population, especially traditional forest dwellers could be involved is in the management of low cost accommodation for tourists, providing guide services, providing sale outlets and managing excursions. The guidelines also stress involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions in running tiger safaris and interpretation centres in buffer zones. In Tamil Nadu, these elected bodies never had a role in eco-tourism. According to Sreevastava, the focus now is on replicating the eco-development societies of tribals in Parambikulam in all the reserves in Tamil Nadu.

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