Recent media reports of tourists overcrowding Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) and blocking the movement of tigers seems to have miffed nature lovers but not the forest department. The department sees the issue as increased visitor interest in wildlife.
Principal Secretary (Forest),Pravi Pardeshi,clarified that only 20 per cent of TATR area that has six tigers is open for tourists. The remaining area has 42 tigers. So it would be a sweeping comment to say that all tigers in TATR are exposed to crowding tourists, he said.
The media reports had raised the hackles of tiger lovers and conservationists. So much so that Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil,himself a nature lover,had written to Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam expressing his anguish.
Asked if these six tigers have to face tourist menace,Pardeshi said,Not at all. The fact that tigers merrily walk through the crammed tourist vehicles means that the animals are not bothered by their presence. Else it would have shied away from people like most wild tigers in deep interiors do, Pardeshi said. He said these tigers and other wildlife have got used to human beings.
Stressing the importance of tourism,Pardeshi said,The most important takeaway of tourism ist that tourists are converted into harcore non-systemic conservationists,who plea the tigers case to outside world.
He said tourists crowding places of tiger sighting is commonplace in all tiger reserves. In reserves like Pench (MP),Kahna and Bandhavgarh,they had even used elephants to track down tigers and corner it for the tourists to see. In Maharashtra,we never used that method, he said.
He said the earnings from tourist visits are useful for conservation and habitat development. TATR tourist revenue went up from Rs 48 lakh to Rs 3 crore in the last one year. We have a fixed number of vehicles going in every day. All our days are generally fully booked. The revenue is also used to develop 79 villages in the buffer zone, he said.
However,he averred that unruly or overenthusiastic tourists are always present in the crowd. We have instructed the guides who are local tribal boys not to stop at the sighting place for than five minutes. Their livelihood depends on making their clients happy, Pardeshi said.
He said in view of problems from tourists,the waterholes for wildlife have been shifted from the roadside to a little inside.