Heli tourism planned as part of Nilgiris Summer Festival will affect wildlife, say conservationists

Published - May 05, 2023 10:23 pm IST - Chennai

Helicopter rides could disturb animals in the buffer zone of Mudumalai and STR, according to environmentalists.

Helicopter rides could disturb animals in the buffer zone of Mudumalai and STR, according to environmentalists. | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

The State government’s “heli tourism” initiative as part of the Nilgiris Summer Festival 2023 from May 13 to 30 has raised concerns about its impact on birds and wildlife in the region. As part of the fest, the Department of Tourism has planned to facilitate helicopter rides for the public from a helipad in Theetukal, Ooty.

Wildlife conservationists say that the helicopter rides at ecologically sensitive sites in the Nilgiris will affect a vast number of wild animals and birds in the forest area as chopper rides at lower altitudes will produce noise at high decibel level. The helicopters could also disturb animals in the buffer zone of Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserves, they say.

Urging the State to cancel the rides, the Nilgiris-based environmentalist Janarthanan has written to the Chief Minister saying helicopter tourism should not be allowed in the Nilgiris, which has been declared a biosecurity zone. Mr. Janarthanan told The Hindu that once heli tourism is introduced, there is a chance that it might be made permanent for VIPs and tourists. “It will be detrimental for the region’s wildlife and ecology,” he said.

While the district administration has granted permission for the helicopters to land and take off at Theetukal, Forest Department officials said they had not received any communication on the heli tourism initiative.

“As per the Director General of Civil Aviation rules, no permission is needed from the district administration for landing and take-off. Only in certain sensitive places, the district administration is required to be informed. But in Nilgiris, we went one step ahead and made it necessary to seek permission,” said Collector S.P. Amrith.

Mudumalai Field Director D. Venkatesh said the Forest Department was not not informed about the helicopter rides. “Mudumalai buffer zone is at a 1000 metre elevation and Theetukal is at 2200 metre elevation. There are less chances of impact but it is difficult to tell for sure as we do not know the aerial route of the helicopter rides,” he said. A senior forest official said the department could have been consulted before planning the heli tourism initiative.

Sadiq Ali, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust, says the noise from the chopper rides will undeniably impact birds. “If the initiative is extended long-term, it will definitely be a problem. Areas around Ooty, Mettupalayam, and the foothills towards Kotagiri, Coonoor have a lot of birds. It will take a long time for animals and birds to get used to the sound and noise pollution,” he said. Birds are already prone to death due to shock from external factors, he added.

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