Net forest area of Bandipur set to rise

The existing tourism zone in Bandipur will be closed down and relocated to fringe areas in due course.

The existing tourism zone in Bandipur will be closed down and relocated to fringe areas in due course.   | Photo Credit: — PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

R. Krishna Kumar

MYSORE: At a time when shrinking forest cover is causing concern, the Bandipur National Park boundary limits is set to expand. And the park authorities are planning to add 230 sq km of additional forests identified on the fringe areas of the present boundary limits.

The Government has accepted the proposal and a final notification is awaited following which the net forest area of Bandipur will increase from approximately 890 sq km to 1,120 sq km.

Also in the offing is shifting of the present tourism zone which lies on the highway to Ooty that cuts across the park to a new zone so as to reduce tourism pressure on the park and its wildlife habitat. The existing buffer region where tourism zone functions will no longer exist as the entire forest has been identified as a core critical tiger habitat by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. It is likely that all tourism-related activities, including the safari rides and the Forest Department offices, will be shifted in phases to a new location while the existing cottages, staff quarters and offices will be disbanded. When notified it is likely that the shift will be completed in three years.

Raju, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bandipur National Park, told The Hindu that the new buffer zone would be established at Heggavadi State Forest Block I and II. The other forest patches that have been identified for incorporation with the national park include Lokkere State Forests, Deshipura State Forests and Somnathapura Reserve Forest. All these are within 5 km of the existing boundary of the national park and provides for contiguity, if protected. These fringe areas will be adjoined to Bandipur and will serve as a shock absorber for the core critical tiger habitat in future. The objective is to reduce and curb the movement of people inside the national park and check cattle grazing. Even ecotourism activity has come under scrutiny in the wake of increase in wild animals straying from their natural habitat to human landscape, Dr. Raju said.

Till recently, the national park was divided into tourism area, which was about 10 per cent of the total area of Bandipur (approximately 890 sq km), while buffer zone constituted 50 per cent and the remaining 40 per cent was the sanctum sanctorum where no human activity could take place. But after the recent tiger census in which Bandipur-Nagarahole-Mudumali-Wayanad landscape was recognised as the best bet for India’s tiger conservation works, the new proposals of creating a new buffer zone and expansion of the national park boundary limits, had been submitted. The notification giving the approval for the expansion of national park was expected any time now, Dr. Raju, who was instrumental in identifying the new forest area and submitting the proposal, said.

The proposal for forest boundary expansion comes in the wake of increase in elephant deaths. The deaths occurred after they strayed out of their natural habitats and moved into human landscape. At the last count, more than two dozen elephants have died so far in the region while seven elephants were done to death in Bandipur limits alone. The new forest region will not only restrict the movement of domestic cattle to core zones, but is expected to reduce anthropogenic pressure in the core tiger and elephant zones of Bandipur. There are nearly 1.97 lakh people on the fringes of the national park and 157 villages have some two lakh cattle.

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