“Protect tigers but protect us too”

“Protect tigers but protect us too.” This is the appeal of several sections of society in Valparai, a hilly town located in the midst of lush green plantations and about 105 km from here.

Contending that the Supreme Court’s recent decision to ban tourism in core zones has the scope for several adverse implications, sections of the local population, especially the plantation sector and the trading community, argue that the local society has never been against regulated tourism and it is acutely conscious of the need for tiger conservation. However, the implementation of any tiger conservation programme should not be carried out without taking into the local people’s interests.

Various Associations are now coming together under the banner of the Valparai Taluk Merchants Federation. The federation is planning to move the court and implead itself as a party in the ongoing case on tiger reserves in the country. Being the only local body in the midst of core zone of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR), the Valparai municipality has a population of about 95,000 (2001 Census). It remains as a buffer zone, as per the State government’s orders of 2007.

Explaining how the Supreme Court’s directive can cripple the local population, A. Jebaraj, president of the federation, says the Aliyar check post near Pollachi on the foot hills of Valparai comes under core zone. If one were to go by the latest government notification and the spirit of the Supreme Court order, vehicular traffic can be banned at any time.

Referring to the recent move to ban vehicular traffic during night on the Gudalur — Mudumalai — Gundalpet section of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Bandipur, Mr. Jebaraj said such a situation might arise in respect of Valparai too. At one stage when there is a rise in the population of tigers, known as territorial animals, buffer zones can also become high conflict pockets. Core zones are for the breeding of the big cats, while buffer zones are for their movement.

Pointing out that the Pollachi-Valparai road via Aliyar forming part of the core zone poses a potential threat to the livelihood of Valparai people, he is afraid that in the long run, the local population may have to be dislocated. “We are for removing Valparai even from the buffer zone,” he demands, adding that Section 35 B of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 refers to coexistence of wildlife and human beings in buffer zones.

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