KARNATAKA

Activists sceptical about package for Bandipur

MYSORE, NOV. 29. A proposal of the Government to develop Bandipur as a tourist destination is being treated with caution as the national park is facing problems of plenty with regard to tourists.

Sources told The Hindu that Rs. five crores was likely to be earmarked to develop the national park as a major tourist destination.

Conservationists and a section of the Forest Department personnel have opposed the proposal as, according to them, the national park received more tourists than it could handle. While more than 55,000 tourists visited Bandipur during 2000-01, the number went up to 68,000 in 2001-02. Over the years, the average inflow of tourists to Bandipur has been constantly above 50,000 per annum.

Fee increase

The authorities increase the entry fee and accommodation rates at Bandipur a few years ago to curb the increase in the tourist flow so that the casual visitors could be kept at bay. Yet there had been no decline in the number of tourists visiting the forests.

Bandipur was brought under Project Tiger in 1973. With this, the number of healthy tigers in the park rose to 85. The density of the elephants in the park is one of the highest in Asia. The forests are also home to exotic species such as leopards, dholes, Indian Bison or Gaur, deer, sambhar, langur, sloth bear, barking deer, four-horned antelope and to over 330 species of birds.

While the Government looks at Bandipur as a gold mine, conservationists and Forest Department personnel feel that the revenue generated from tourism should be ploughed back to forest management. More tourists meant more pressure on forests and disturbance to the wildlife. There are several private resorts outside the national park boundaries and it is pertinent to put an end to "human-centric" development within the ambit of the national park.

On the one hand, tribal people are relocated from the core areas to the forest periphery to minimise pressure on forests. But on the other hand, the Government conceives projects such as "infrastructure development" and opening up of core areas for "trekkers" in the garb of promoting eco-tourism and adventure sports that negated the purpose of tribal relocation.

Convenient location

A major factor that makes Bandipur attractive for weekend-visitors is its convenient location. The National Park is mid-way to Ooty from Mysore and is 80 km. from the city and is reachable within 90 minutes of drive. The tourists en route Ooty and visitors from the hill station make a beeline to Bandipur and spend sometime to get a glimpse of the elusive tigers or the majestic elephants.

The conduct of a large number of tourists visiting the national park has come under scrutiny recently as their noisy behaviour disturbed wildlife. Several roads, including a national highway, criss-cross the park. The road linking Bandipur with Wynad is being upgraded to a national highway. This could turnout to be a serious limiting factor to animals, according to conservationists.

Accidents

Dozens of animals are killed in road accidents. Recently, a tiger was run over by a vehicle on the highway while a pregnant deer was reduced to a mass of pulp by a timber-laden truck.

Wildlife scientists have mooted the idea of assessing the carrying capacity of the national park to assess if it could withstand the anthropogenic stress.

Sethuramalingam, Scientist in-charge of the Regional Museum of Natural History, Mysore, has called for reducing the pressure on Bandipur.

He has suggested promoting lesser-known places to reduce the disturbance in the sanctuary.

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