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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The forest of musings

K. PRADEEP Padma Mahanti, as Deputy Director of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, played an important role in developing its eco-tourism model. Her compilation of poems, Mist and Musings, tells of her experiences there The Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) won the U.N.-India Biodiversity Governance award, instituted by the Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the best managed protected area of the country recently. Padma Mahanti, IFS, who served as Deputy Director, PTR, was hugely responsible for initiating innovative concepts of eco-tourism and in following up effectively some of the programmes introduced at the PTR. Padma was member secretary of the Periyar Foundation. She won the Green Guard Anti-Poaching award in 2007. Padma, who is now Regional Passport Officer in Odisha, recently released a book of poems titled Mist and Musings, which narrates in verse and interludes in prose the story of her life, experiences in Periyar. In an e-mail interview Padma shares her memories of Periyar, her thoughts on wildlife management and more. Excerpts from the interview. What does Periyar mean to you? Periyar was my first independent posting after my training at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). And it was love at first sight. The streams that came to life during monsoon fascinated me. I still dream of them. There’s a deep connect with Periyar. Were you always a wildlife enthusiast or did Periyar transform you? Wildlife interested me more than the other subjects of forest management. That’s why I went ahead to complete my post-graduate diploma in wildlife management in 2005. Periyar gave an opportunity to implement whatever I was trained for in the WII. As a wildlife professional, and not as a poet, how do you evaluate your experience here?The job must have been challenging too? Yes. You had to be on guard always. The problems were undefined. From human-wildlife conflict, safety of tourists, forest fire, poaching, sandal smuggling, pressure on forest land, to the issues of the forest dwellers dependent on the park management for their livelihood, each day was a challenge. Looking back was it worth the effort? We achieved a lot, but achievements are not always quantifiable. They are often special moments, endearing memories. And my tenure in Periyar was full of such instances. Yes, looking back it was satisfactory. Training local youth in tiger monitoring through the use of camera traps and GPS, reviving nature clubs, revisiting and modifying all eco-development committees with a plan for five years were some great initiatives. The tourist is the subject of one of your poems. He can be a source of concern in a protected sanctuary. Were the tourists generally insensitive? In the Periyar Tiger Reserve tourism was still low impact as it is carried out in about 2.5 sq. km area of the entire reserve. The rest is eco-tourism in its real sense. However, there used to be mindless jeep rides in parts of the tiger reserve by other agencies. I hope it has stopped now or at least regulated. What steps would you suggest to balance this tourist-wildlife issue, especially in the wake of the new rules framed with regard to tiger sanctuaries? In the present scenario tourism has to be used as a tool to unite voices for conservation. It should be low impact and responsible; nature friendly and totally guided. Vehicles should never be allowed inside protected areas except the buffer zone. Sensitisation classes should be arranged for tourists before they enter the tiger reserves. They should be made to realise that tourism inside the tiger reserves is a sensitive and responsible job. The tribes were successfully integrated into the protection and conservation of the jungles. How do you view this move? Periyar has six indigenous tribes, Mannans, Paliyans, Uralis, Malapandarams, Malayarians and Ulladans. Efforts like organising the Mannan and Paliyan fishermen into eco-development committees and regulation of fishing activities inside the park were taken up. They were trained in research, wildlife health monitoring; protection of park and in hospitality sector. In Periyar all eco-tourism programmes are protection-oriented and each one was need based. My efforts were to explore linking of local economy like pepper cultivation in the tribal hamlets directly with the global market by weaning out middlemen. Periyar Foundation played a pivotal role in the experiment of pepper export by Vanchivayal tribal colony to Germany. Poachers were also transformed ? In 1998, a group of 22 cinnamon bark smugglers in Periyar, were transformed in mainstream society. In 2004, when I joined Periyar as the Additional Deputy Conservator of Forests efforts were on to transform a group of poachers from the neighbouring Theni District, in Tamil Nadu. I was lucky to be a part of this process from the very start. I took it forward by organising these people into an eco-development committee and making them a part of the Periyar Protection Force. This was India’s first trans-boundary initiative in eco-development. How did Mist and Musings come about? Writing was a way to escape from the depression I suffered following my father’s demise. It took me 18 months to bring out this book. I felt like I was reliving by life once again. The entire proceeds from the sale of this book will go to people protecting the jungles and to help conservation

Game's up on tiger-spotting racket

Anil Kumar M, TNN | Oct 25, 2012, 04.21AM IST BANGALORE: The recent Supreme Court order is not the only reason the government needs to ban commercial resorts near the forests. While tiger sighting in the wild is a matter of luck, state forest guards seem to be colluding with private resorts to make it easy. The forest department recently unearthed a racket that some resorts in an understanding with forest guards ensure their guests get to see a tiger in the wild, particularly in the Bandipur and Nagarahole ranges. Sources in the forest department told TOI that though tourists are allowed to go on a safari only in vehicles provided by the forest department and Jungle Lodges and Resorts, tourists from private resorts are taken around in a particular vehicle. "Guards manning core areas alert the vehicle driver through his mobile or wireless set that tigers with their cubs can be spotted in a particular region. Accordingly, the driver takes the guests and ensures they get to see a tiger. Guards get monetary and other favours from resorts." He added, "Feedback from tourists is displayed by resorts on their websites or display board, stating that tiger and cubs were spotted." The official added that tourists and wildlife enthusiasts are often not aware that the tiger spotting was stage-managed. Forest minister CP Yogeshwar said he came across such a racket recently. "Some resorts run by influential people, including an influential family of Mysore, are reportedly involved in such a racket. I've suspended a few guards and directed department officials to take measures to end this," he said. He said the SC's October 16 order will be strictly adhered to. It has directed all states to prepare a tiger conservation plan within six months keeping in mind the National Tiger Conservation Authority guidelines and submit it to the Centre for approval. "We've decided to stop all permanent tourist facilities located in the core area of reserve forests. A plan is also being worked out to allow only a limited number of tourists per day to tiger safaris," Yogeshwar said. As per the latest tiger census, Karnataka, with 300, accounts for the highest number of tigers. Of the 41 tiger reserves in the country, Karnataka tops the list with five ― Bandipur, Nagarahole, Biligiri Ranganathaswamy, Dandeli-Anshi and Bhadra.

Wildlife adventure in India is an experience of a lifetime

The majestic lion, the fearsome tiger, stealthy leopard, powerful elephant, the shy deer, robust antelope, the gorgeous pelican, robust woodpecker and the elegant flamingo are some of the impressive sights in our national reserves. Gifted by nature, wildlife in India is rich in variety and abundance. The majestic lion, the fearsome tiger, stealthy leopard, powerful elephant, the shy deer, robust antelope, the gorgeous pelican, robust woodpecker and the elegant flamingo are some of the impressive sights in our national reserves. Wildlife adventure is not only a great choice for a holiday with kids, it is also one of the best ways to connect with nature. Imagine waking up to the bird calls and not the alarm clock on your desk; not wanting to snooze any longer and heading out in the greens. Singing with the winds and walking by the riverside to spot animals drinking water. The feeling is extraordinary and absolutely high on the wish list for nature lovers. Thanks to our varied geographical terrains, India is home to scores of species of mammals, rare birds, reptiles, insects and amphibians. Add to it, the diverse flora that supports our ecosystem. However, many species of birds and animals are now on the verge of becoming extinct because of climate and geographic changes and also by excessive hunting by man (for food, medicine and recreational reasons). According to ecologists, more than 600 species of animals and birds are expected to be extinct if not protected by wildlife management. The final call is ours and the first step is to reconnect with nature and safeguard the wildlife habitat. Start now... MISSION: TIGER TRAIL HEAD TO: BANDHAVGARH, KANHA, JIM CORBETT, RANTHAMBORE Spotting the national animal of India — the Tiger, can be a fabulous experience. You can take your family on a tiger trail to Bandhavgarh, which is over 200 kms north-east of Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. The nearest village is Tala, which is the access point of the park. In MP itself, Kanha National Park has the pride of providing the setting for Rudyard Kipling's classic novel, The Jungle Book. This large park is well regarded for its research and conservation programme. If you prefer a drive from Delhi, then head to Ranthambore National Park. Take your kids to India's first national park — Corbett, which was established in 1936 by legendary tiger hunter Jim Corbett. Located in Uttarakhand, around three hours from Nainital and seven hours from Delhi. STAY OPTIONS: King's Lodge, Tiger's Den Resort, Mahua Kothi Resort and Treehouse Hideaway and Syna Tiger Resort at Bandhavgarh. At Kanha, stay over at Baghira Log Huts, Wild Chalet Resort, Pugmark Resort, Kanha Jungle Lodge and Mumba Resort. At Corbett, stay over at Tiger Camp, Corbett River View Retreat, Ramganga Resort, Ashoka's Tiger Trail and Camp Forktail Creek Jungle Lodge. Ladakh , known as 'The Broken Moon' is set in a spectacular environment enclosed by the mighty ranges of Karakoram and the Himalayas and is one of the most desirable destinations for travellers. Being a professional tourist host and artist, Ghulam Mustafa and his brother Ghulam Mohiuddin desired to provide to travellers coming here a balance between adventure and comfort through their Hotel The Grand Dragon Ladakh.

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.