The Forest Department’s volte-face on creating a new tourism zone with safari facilities at the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary has brought into focus the negative fallout of unbridled promotion of ecotourism around Bandipur.
The authorities wanted to create a tourism zone at Nugu but the proposal was “put on hold” as both legal and wildlife-related issues were raised.
One of the ostensible objectives for the new zone was to reduce pressure on the Bandipur core area and get tourists towards Nugu, which is in the buffer zone. But it was argued that instead of reducing pressure the proposed move would open the floodgates and even Nugu would be saturated with tourists.
Two national highways [NH 766 and NH 67] cut through the Bandipur tiger reserve and, hence, it is accessible from Mysuru, Ooty, and Wayanad, three popular tourist destinations.
Dormitories and cottages, which can accommodate about 80 to 100 people, are always full. But the people for daily safaris [from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.] tend to be more.
During the peak season and weekends, hundreds of tourists drive down as walk-in customers preferring only a safari ride, and the footfall surpasses the carrying capacity of the tiger reserve. Wildlife activists have said it is not about the safari alone but the long-term consequences of such activities that have a bearing on the wildlife habitat, which is discomforting.
Given Bandipur’s popularity, the vehicle density on the two highways cutting through the tiger reserve is already an area of concern. It has led to road kills forcing the district administration to notify a ban on night traffic through the forest.
“This apart, there is a proliferation of private resorts and homestays – especially in and around Mangala, Elchetti, Chikka Elchetti, Hangala Hosahalli, Melukamanahalli, and Maguvinahalli villages and some of them are illegal,” according to the activists.
It was only recently that the Chamarajanagar district administration ordered a crackdown on homestays around Bandipur.
The department had identified 14 properties constructed in violation of eco-sensitive zone guidelines and wanted their closure.
Some of the properties are in the wildlife corridor area and could impede their movement, according to activists keen to get the homestays shut down. But the matter is now before the court.