The wildlife habitat and core forest area of the Bandipur National Park is frequently swamped with private tour operators entering the national park illegally from Kerala. They put the lives of tourists at risk and also disturb the animals.
A senior conservationist working with the Forest Department in the national park told The Hindu that tourist vehicles come from Kalavalli, Anakundu and the Sasimala side of Kerala and enter the Gundre and Begur forests inside Bandipur. Their passage is assisted by a bridge across the Kapila, which connects the two States.
However, no tour operator has the jurisdiction to operate in the core area of the national park, and even the popular safari conducted by the Karnataka Forest Department is permitted only within the tourism zone. Entry to the Bandipur National Park is only through the tourism zone located on the highway connecting Mysore and Ooty. The rest of the park is out of bounds to visitors under Section 27 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Hari Somashekar of Wildlife Matters said that when there is large-scale congregation of wild animals near the Kabini backwaters during summer, tour operators from Kerala bring in multitudes of tourists who enter the Gundre and Begur forest region of Karnataka, which is close to the border.
When contacted, Hanumanthappa, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bandipur Project Tiger Reserve, said the issue was also brought to his notice and he had instructed the range officers to take strict action. However, he said illegal entry of tourists was not a regular feature, but it was unacceptable as the Gundre-Begur forests constituted the core area of Bandipur.
Though the Bandipur National Park is 990 sq. km, tourism activity is restricted to within a radius of 32 sq. km around the main reception centre located on the national highway connecting Gundlupet in Karnataka to Ooty in Tamil Nadu. Tourists from both Karnataka and Kerala have to approach the tourism zone only through Gundlupet while those from Tamil Nadu come from Mudumalai and take the Ooty-Gundlupet road. But the tourism zone of Bandipur is nearly 40 to 50 km from the Gundre-Begur region and, hence, tour operators from Kerala stop their vehicles midway to see the wildlife before returning, according to wildlife activists.
“During peak summer, the Kabini backwaters are the only source of water for wildlife for several square kilometres. Private vehicles with blaring music halt at waterholes inside the national park blocking the movement of animals coming to quench their thirst,” said Mr. Somashekar.
D. Rajkumar of the Wildlife Conservation Foundation said that people alight from the vehicles in front of herds of elephants and this can prove hazardous if the animals go berserk.
“In the absence of trained professionals and medical help in the vicinity, the tourists are at grave risk,” he added.
Such illegal entry has also deprived the State of revenue accruing from regular tourism. Hence, wildlife activists have sought a crackdown on vehicles entering the Gundre and Begur side as well as a secure space for wildlife in Bandipur, which is a prime tiger and elephant habitat.