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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

State bid to assuage Wayanad’s fears

P. VENUGOPAL Opinion-makers to be taken to Periyar sanctuary to show them benefits of tiger reserve status The Forest Department is planning to take several opinion-makers, including politicians, from Wayanad to the tiger reserve in Periyar to show them how people living near a tiger reserve benefit from the region’s status as a tiger reserve. Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) O.P. Kaler told The Hindu that the ongoing public unrest in Wayanad was a matter of serious concern. The unrest could be traced to the finding of a camera trapping programme early this year that the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary harboured at least 67 adult tigers and 11 tiger cubs. This was quite an impressive number for a sanctuary spread over just 344.44 km. Soon, there was much media hype projecting Wayanad as a fit candidate to be declared as a tiger reserve. And, during the last few days, there had been an unusually high incidence of cattle kills in the villages around the Wayanad sanctuary. A tiger was trapped in a cage and released in the deep jungles. The people had been blocking roads and organising hartals, obviously due to fears that signs of the tigers’ assertive presence in the sanctuary would prompt the government to set in motion the procedures for declaring the sanctuary as a tiger reserve. They fear that it would curtail their freedom. A couple of times, they even detained officials for hours together. ‘NO PROPOSAL YET’ “At the outset, it may be noted that there is no proposal to declare the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary as a tiger reserve. So, the apprehensions of the people of Wayanad are totally unfounded. Also, even if the existing wildlife sanctuary is declared as a tiger reserve, the people living in the fringe areas will not be subjected to any additional regulations. They are already under the regulations relating to the region’s status as a wildlife sanctuary and the same will continue. That is the law,” he said. NO CONFLICT There were already two tiger reserves in the State — the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. The conservation initiatives in both places were not in conflict with the interests of the fringe-area people. In fact, the entire economy of Kumily town on the fringes of the Periyar Tiger Reserve was dependent on the reserve, he said. The Sabarimala temple, the second largest pilgrim centre in the country, was located in the buffer zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Areas under human pressure were put in the buffer zone and the ongoing activities were not curtailed, but were sought to be managed in such a way as to conform to the requirements of conservation. The region would receive special attention with the status of a tiger reserve and funds too would flow liberally from the Centre for strengthening conservation initiatives and also improving the social and economic status of the people living on the fringe areas. ECONOMIC GAINS “The Periyar experience will convince anyone that tiger conservation measures are implemented by involving the participation of the people on the fringe areas, who, in turn, economically benefit from their participatory role. So we wish to show the Periyar experience to opinion-makers in Wayanad,” Mr. Kaler said. Keywords: Periyar tiger reserve, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary