THOUGH THE Gir sanctuary and two safari parks within it have opened to tourists after a very long period, tourist footfall is yet to pick up and forest officers say that permit slots even for Diwali festivities are yet to be booked. The poor beginning to the season has residents of Sasan, the village surrounded by forest who depend on tourism to earn their livelihood worried.
The tourism zone inside the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (GNPWS) opened to the tourists on October 16 after an early closure on March 21 this year. Gir Interpretation Zone, Devaliya, popularly known as Devaliya safari park in Gir (west) wildlife division near Sasan and Ambardi safari park in Gir (east) wildlife division near Dhari in Amreli district, had opened on October 1 after closing their gates to tourists due to Covid-19 lockdown which had begun in Gujarat on March 21 this year.
“The response has been lukewarm so far this year. Less than 500 safaris have happened in these three tourism places since the season began. Till yesterday, permits were available even for Diwali festivities days,” Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Junagadh wildlife circle, said.
Usually, tourist footfall remains the highest during Diwali festivities in October-November and during the summer vacations in schools in April-May. But this year, the peak of summer was lost to the lockdown and permit booking evn for Diwali, which falls on November 14 this year, is yet to pick up.
“…people may be preferring to remain indoors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. …we are now allowing entry to children below 10 years of age as well as elderly. Now that restrictions on tourists of certain age groups have been lifted, we might see an uptick in the number of visitors,” Vasavada further said.
In normal times, the two safari parks remain open to tourists round the year, while safaris inside the GNPWS are allowed from October 16 to June 15. The sanctuary remains closed to tourists during the monsoon. Last year, 5.23 lakh tourists had visited Gir forest to see Asiatic lions.
Forest department has quota of 150 tourist permits per day. However, less than 10 per cent of them are being booked these days. “We are seeing around five safaris in the morning and an equal number in the evening. In all, about 75 safaris have departed from Sasan from the day the sanctuary gates were opened to the tourists. People are just not turning up as yet,” said Khimji Sandera, president of Gipsy Owners Association (GOA), Sasan, an organisation of owners of tourist gypsies, said.
Sasan, a village in Junagadh taluka, is the headquarters of GNPWS and its residents depend heavily on tourism for earning their livelihood. “…Many of our members have purchased gypsies by availing bank loans and for want to tourists they are finding it difficult to pay even their bank instalments,” Sandera said.
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