Nagpur: This new ‘mini – forest’ of U-K is much visited this summer since tiger sighting is almost 100% guaranteed. This is because the largest tiger of India, Jay, has made his home here along with 3 females. Between them they have about 6-7 cubs, 4 of which are siblings.
These cubs are just over an year old, and having grown up in this protected territory, but which sees many tourists, have grown used to the sight of gypsies and human beings sitting in it.
Some days ago, a cub got so friendly that he paid a proper ‘social visit’ to one of the gypsies that was standing there, stationary, as soon as word of ‘possible tiger sighting’ had gone around. This fellow came right up to the gypsy and seemed to have become fascinated with its side view mirror. He sniffed it, nuzzled against it and tried to move it with his nose. Then he went round the gypsy saying “Howdie?” to the youngsters inside, who obviously seemed fear stricken. But he meant no harm… he then sauntered over to the gypsy behind, didn’t find it that interesting and went back into the forest.
Word of this went viral, as did the video and tourists began flocking to this newly opened sanctuary hoping they would be as lucky too!
This may have been good for publicity, good business for Guides and others employed there, but according to Forest officers, risky for the cubs who can become easy targets of poachers if they make a practise of getting so close to people. ( This seems to be the fear).
This could be the reason that the RFO of the area Laxman Aware has been imposing strict rules on Guides including the routes they are allowed to take inside the sanctuary.
This resulted in a face-off yesterday. Some 18 guides went on a flash strike on Friday morning, over imposition of a fine of Rs200 each against 10 guides and Rs500 each against 13 Gypsies for entering Marupaar Tar Road on Thursday evening at around 4.30pm. They later withdrew it for the afternoon round. There is confusion over whether this road is open for tourists or not.
Dileep Kirmare, one of the guides told Nagpur Today that earlier this road was off limits, but 2- 3 months ago they were told verbally that they could take the Marupaar Tar road while going to the check point, but remove the barricade and take village road while returning. They have been doing so since then.
It is learnt that there have been brush offs between forest officers and guides over some issues and trouble has been brewing.
NT has learnt that at the heart of the problem could be that suddenly being a registered guide in this forest has become very lucrative and the Sarpanch of Gothangaon, Hulme, has been trying to replace the present team of guides with local fellows from his village.
The Guides say they have been threatened for some time with some officers making statements like ” return your uniforms and stop coming here. We do not care if no tourists come here, you guys are not wanted.”
Explaining the problem RFO Aware says in the last season Gothangaon has strictly implemented guidelines and recovered Rs 65,000 as penalty from erring guides, vehicles and tourists. “This indicates strict regulation and implementation of tourism guidelines. All gates have been informed to strictly impose tourism guidelines so that there is no disturbance to animals and forest,” he added.
However, the guides have a different version. Their leader and sarpanch of Velgaon-Dahegaon Jitendra Gondane says, “The strike has been temporarily suspended owing to machan census from Saturday. On Monday, officials are holding a meeting in which we will put our demands. We have not paid the fine nor have we accepted the show-cause notice.”
Gondane said that there are many factors hampering tourist activity. ”
The open tourism routes do not measure up to 45km. Further restrictions on routes cut the distance to 25km. Tourists are paying Rs2,500 per safari but are not being allowed to stay near a waterhole beyond five minutes. Guides are being frequently reprimanded by forester Shailesh Pardhi for this. Tourists vehicles have to cross four check posts and if guides do not get a signature from these posts, they are not paid,” he added.
Looks like Forest officials are back to the dilemma – are tourists good for Tigers or not? Tourists bring in money which can be spent on Forest and Tiger conservation; flow of regular, legitimate tourists also curb activities of poachers; but tigers, specially the young ones, can lose fear of humans and the instinct to keep to the wild and out of sight.
Professor Nishi Mukherji, an international recognized Management Professor who has also been a ‘Tiger Expert’ for 25 years scoffs at this notion of tourists being bad for tigers.
“It is the other way round” he says emphatically ” the more we develop Tiger tourism, which is the Biggest Asset Vidarbha has, the more money will come in, villagers around will thrive and they will get more zealous about protecting the big cats knowing they bring in prosperity. It is the best virtuous cycle we can have!” About Tigers getting human friendly he asks ” what is wrong with that? They have been born here, so have their parents and grand parents – they are bound to become familiar with human beings in all this time. In fact, local villagers are their best protectors.”
He cites the example of the Kruger National Park of South Africa, which is probably the most visited wild life park in the world. It lies over an area of 19,500 sq. Kms and sees a traffic of one million tourists per week, who stay for an average of 6-7 days. They bring in billions of $ for S Africa by way of tourism! And they have only Lions, no tigers at all.
India – Vidarbha specifically has the largest population of the Bengal Tiger which is the most ‘attractive’ for tourists internationally.
Latest figures show that India grants 8 million visas to foreign tourists every year. ( China gives 80 million).
“If we, in Nagpur, make efforts to attract even 10% of these tourists to all the Tiger parks we have around Nagpur – Tadoba, Pench, U-K, Bor, Koka etc. and they spend on an average 3 – 4 days in the area, we are speaking of thousands of crores of Rupees in revenue every year!!”
” This is the true gold mine we have, not coal! We have a unique opportunity of Economic progress hand in hand with environmental protection and development.
If you look at the global scene, the second largest industry in the world is Tourism ( first being Oil). And the fastest growing segment in this is Forest and Adventure tourism. We ought to cash in on this!”
It looks like someone needs to sensitize our Forest officers to be more appreciative of Tourists – they need to understand that Tigers and Tourists make a mutually beneficial pair.