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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tribal show, plastic recycling: Amrabad Tiger Reserve eco-tours aim to go beyond jungle safari

🔴Tourists can book the ‘tiger stay package’, comprising a forest trek, jungle safari, and stay at CBET cottages, through the official website of ATR.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
Updated: December 8, 2021 2:12:09 pm
The two tiger reserves in Telangana — ATR in southern Telangana and Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) in the north — had been out of bounds for visitors in the past.

Telangana Forest Department’s recent decision to open up Amrabad Tiger Reserve (ATR), one of the largest tiger reserves in the country, for eco-tourism is turning out to be a success, with authorities saying daily slots for the tour package are sold out till mid-January 2022.

The two tiger reserves in Telangana — ATR in southern Telangana and Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) in the north — had been out of bounds for visitors in the past. By opening up ATR now, authorities aim to create a better sense of ownership and belongingness among people towards forests. According to department officials, opening up a stretch or two close to the core forest areas for tourism would also help garner public opinion in support of better protection and conservation of the area.

At about 140 km away from the state capital, the tiger reserve is also a popular getaway for Hyderabadis. A miscellaneous forest with rolling hills, deep valleys, and gorges along river Krishna, ATR is presently home to 20-24 resident tigers. Spread across 2611.4 Sq Km in Nagarkurnool and Nalgonda districts of Telangana, ATR was carved out of the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) post-bifurcation of unified Andhra Pradesh. Six cottages at the Community Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) Center in Mannanur have been spruced up for the guests and the two-day package that includes jungle safari and forest trek can accommodate 12 persons each day.

Apart from tigers, the forest area is home to over 100 leopards, sloth bears, spotted deers, sambar deers, dholes(Indian wild dogs), smooth-coated otters, and four species of antelopes, namely, Nilgais, Chinkaras (Indian Gazella), Chausinga (four-horned antelope), and blackbucks. The Nallamalla forests, being a track of the Eastern Ghats, is also known for its endemic species of flora and fauna, said B Srinivas, Chief Conservator of Forest.

Responding to a question on tourism versus conservation, Srinivas, who is also the Field Director Project Tiger, Amrabad Tiger Reserve, said the tour is planned in a manner to allow only a limited number of visitors. “That is why visitors are not allowed indiscriminately. Only a small group of visitors are allowed at a time, and they are not taken all around the reserve but only to some identified tourism spots. We have received a very encouraging response to the package. Slots are booked till February,” he said.

Forest Divisional Officer (Amrabad Division) Rohith Gopidi said the tour package is, however, not centred on tigers but aimed at helping one understand and protect nature for the future. “We can generate some revenue, create employment for the locals, especially the primitive Chenchu tribes, and also ensure better surveillance and monitoring of forests. Above all, it is about making people conscious of our precious resources and preserving them for the future,” said Gopidi.

Tourists can book the ‘tiger stay package’, comprising a forest trek, jungle safari, and stay at CBET cottages, through the official website of ATR. After checking into the CBET centre by noon, visitors are taken to the lab at the environment education centre, where SCAT and parasitic analysis are conducted on faecal samples of resident animals, to study the feeding behaviours of predators and detect diseases in them. Visitors are told about various species of animals living in the tiger reserve and the importance of the lab’s operations.

The visitors are also given a tour of the plastic recycling centre. With a busy highway passing through the reserve and the number of travelers too huge to regulate, the forest department has been facing the challenge of plastic waste for a long time. “We have employed locals to pick up and segregate pet bottles, multi-layered plastics, and cardboard wastes,” said Gopidi.

The segregated waste is then compressed into dense and compact bales using a machine before being sent for recycling. In the godown here, at least 3500 kg of plastic bales are waiting to be taken away. “About 500 kg plastic bale is generated every week and at times it goes to 2000 kg per week. People need to know the importance of scientific collection and disposal of plastic wastes so that they stop littering the forests,” Gopidi added.

Before setting out on a jungle safari in the evening, visitors are shown videos exclusive to Amarabad’s flora and fauna. The safari of about 50 km passes through the areas close to the core forest and ends at Farahabad viewpoint. Over four hours, visitors are educated on different kinds of host species of trees en route, facets of wildlife, and more by tour guides who hail from the local Chenchu tribe. The department has also arranged for a theatrical drama and culture show involving the local tribesmen in the evening. The next morning, visitors set on a four-kilometre trek to Umamaheswaram temple through the forest, where they can do bird watching and take lessons on five different types of honey available in these areas. The package tour ends with a breathtaking view of the forest canopy from the hilltop.

The package is priced at Rs 4,600 for a couple and excludes food and tour guide charges. There are plans to install a telescope for stargazing at the CBET centre. Authorities are also mulling offering package tours for a different kind of experience at Domalapenta and Somasila, two other tourist attractions on the fringes of ATR.

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