Certain section of population seeks relaxation of ban on tourism; specialists are against any dilution of the scheme

The government’s latest notifications on the demarcation of core and buffer zones of three tiger reserves in the State may still require a fine-tuning to strike a balance among ecology protection, tribal welfare and tourism promotion, feel conservationists and wildlife experts .

As the demand for relaxation of the ban on tourism becomes shriller in the reserve areas, the specialists are against any dilution of the scheme spelt out in the notifications.

Through the August 13 notifications, the State Environment and Forests Department has given an elaborate description of the tiger reserves — Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) in the districts of Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Dindigul; Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) in The Nilgiris district and the Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts.

Last month, the Supreme Court, through an order, banned tourism activities in the core areas of tiger reserves. It also gave three weeks time to several States to notify the core areas in their respective tiger reserves. The next hearing of the case before the Supreme Court is slated for Wednesday (August 22).

Representatives of the public and tribal people of the Anamalai region are not apparently satisfied with the notification as they feel it has not addressed their livelihood issues. Some tribal people, particularly those in Top Slip, say that life for them has become difficult of late due to the ban on tourism. Till recently, these people were employed as tourist guides or were working in rest houses and restaurants. But, officials of the Forest Department explain that exclusion of Top Slip or the Pollachi-Valparai road from the core zones would require laborious efforts and planning.

Welcoming the government’s move, K. Kalidasan of OSAI, an NGO in nature conservation, says that for right reasons, the buffer zone of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve has been expanded to include Kodaikanal and Dindigul divisions, totally spanning over an extent of 521.28 sq km. In the case of Mudumalai, an area of 367.59 sq km of The Nilgiris North Forest Division has been made part of the buffer zone. These areas are known to be tiger pockets and their inclusion under the management schemes of tiger reserve will help the future population of tigers to disperse into adjoining protected areas. The benefit also expands to revenue villages that come within the buffer zone as the concept of coexistence is proposed in these areas, Mr. Kalidasan adds.

Pointing out that tourism in the Mudumalai area of The Nilgiris has never been of the intrusive kind, conservationist A.C. Soundarrajan advocates the coming together of all stakeholders for a harmonious coexistence.

As for Kalakkad Mundanthurai, a senior officer, who worked there for years, says the buffer zone, extending up to 706.54 sq km in nearly 300 villages that fall within five km from the periphery of the core area, would serve as a protected sanctuary for the wildlife insulated from adverse impact of the habitations. He suggests that Agasthiyar Falls, Manimuthar Falls and the Thalaiyanai at Kalakkad, all classified as constituents of the core zone, be brought under the buffer zone so that the public can visit these spots for a bath.

However, R. Ganesan, senior scientist of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), who is involved in several researches on Kalakkad-Mundanthurai and conservation activities, argues that the entire 895 sq km area, now declared by the government as core zone, should be retained as such and there should not be any dilution.

“Instead, the government may effect a few changes in the buffer zone boundary. For example, the human habitations near the sanctuary at Thirukkurunkudi or on the Kalakkad — Cheranmahadevi stretch, all having vast stretches of shrubs, should be included in the buffer zone to avoid man — animal conflict in future,” Dr. Ganesan said.

M. Mathivanan, coordinator, ATREE’s Agasthyamalai Community-based Conservation Centre situated at the KMTR’s buffer zone, says wild animals, which could not be seen near Agasthiyar Falls in the past, are spotted easily now even during the day and the scat of panther could be seen near the Agasthiyar Falls.

He also suggests that the KMTR’s buffer zone be declared as ‘Eco Sensitive Zone’ so that no mining activities could be carried out in the areas close to the core zone.

As pointed out by Mr. Kalidasan, the bigger problem lies in permitting tourism and demarcating tourism zones. Generally, private tourist operators follow the conventional tourism model, whose emphasis is on entertainment, having little regard to animals. The ecotourism model adopted in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve of Kerala, involving the local tribal people, is an uncommon feature in Tamil Nadu.

Mr. Soundarrajan, who reserves comment on the notifications, however, feels that the cause of conservation would suffer if a total ban is imposed on tourism. His prescription is: Encourage tourism but with effective and tamper-proof safeguards. The revenue thus generated would help conservation of the apex species. The stakeholders, particularly those in the tourism sector, should also realise that by supporting the conservation efforts, they would be safeguarding their long term interests.

(With inputs from D. Radhakrishnan in Udhagamandalam)

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