National Park at a crossroads

National Park at a crossroads

With over 1,435 wild inhabitants, the Bannerghatta forest battles animal deaths, encroachment and man-animal conflicts

National Park at a crossroads

In the news for all the wrong reasons — the latest being the death of tuberculosis-hit bears and a software company employee being trampled to death by an elephant — the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) has now a new eventuality to contend with: The imminent surge in tourism, thanks to the closure of the State’s tiger reserves following the Supreme Court direction.

Caught in a fix over the bear deaths and a slew of other problems triggered by man-animal conflicts, the park officials are bound to face the heat. Here’s a closer look at the issues:

The 104-sq km park remains a critical lung space on Bangalore’s periphery although its maintenance is getting increasingly tough. For Bangaloreans and wildlife enthusiasts from across the State and the country, BNP still endures a picturesque alternative to the tiger reserves, and that is one big reason why things should be in order out there.  

Forest department officials and wildlife experts predict a flood of tourists in BNP. The pristine forest land with a multitude of scenic spots, complete with assured wildlife sightings and a semi-captive zoo, are attractions too good to ignore. Agrees A K Varma, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force in the State. “The pressure will now shift to Bannerghatta. We need to do some thing anticipating this,” he adds.

Issues of overcrowding would have to be addressed first. The capacity of the zoo and the park itself will have to be analysed. “The entire park can be utilised to the best to take the tourism pressure off tiger reserves such as Bandipur, Nagarahole and Bhadra. With a number of herbivores and a sizeable elephant population, we can have an open safari. Visitors can then get the satisfaction of sighting wild animals. But to make this possible, the park should be sealed to prevent the animals from straying out,” notes Dr Raman Sukumar, pachydermist, and professor at the Indian Institute of Science.

The park being fragmented, conservation of elephants will be the toughest part, notes Sukumar. Even if the tourism ban by the Supreme Court is lifted and regulated, the BNP, declared a national park in the early 2000s, will have to bear the brunt of the regulations.

The park’s geography is one issue. “The problem with the park is that it is irregular in shape, 25 km long and 0.5 km wide in many places, surrounded by human habitats.

Though it is fragmented too much, the forest is connected with patches such as Thally, Satyamangalam and Kollegal. But the bottlenecks make it prone to conflicts,” explains Surendra Varma, an elephant researcher at the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, the Indian Institute of Science. According to Varma, who has studied the elephant habitat and elephants here, the problems are more man-made than the elephant menace that can be resolved if the people co-operate with the department. 

“First of all, the area is very small. But there is a good population of elephants here, nearly 50-70. Also, there are migrant elephants whose numbers were estimated at 200 during anti-depredation. With less fodder and water availability being less (no rivers around), the crops cultivated around the park by the villagers are an open invitation to jumbos,” he says.

Besides, the experts feel that the dependence of people on the forest for firewood and other things, and illegal quarries have been reducing the quality of the forests.Varma agrees with Sukumar’s suggestions to convert the park into an open safari since the zoo can take any amount of pressure. 

However, he adds a note of caution. “We cannot say there will not be any limit to the carrying capacity of the park. Considering the vehicular density in the City and the present rush during weekends, we need to create better infrastructure such as quality roads.”

A N Yellappa  Reddy, former forest official and environmentalist, also agrees that the ban on tourism in the tiger reserve will certainly increase the pressure on Bannerghatta. He emphasises on a detailed working plan to make it a suitable tourism hub, while retaining its ecological characteristics. 

“This should be categorised into several places where people’s movement should be regulated. For instance, you could categorise it as Thapovana, where visitors to temples will be catered to. A section of the forest should be kept free from any human interference except for the forest staff to take up plantation work or creating a waterhole,” he suggests.

Besides, the Ragihalli reserve forest within Bannerghatta should be made a buffer zone for tourism. Reddy says the department should ensure water and food security for the animals here.

Located at a distance of 22 km from the heart of Bangalore, this national park is considered closest to any State capital in the country. BNP is also the second in the world after the Nairobi National Park, which is just seven km from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

BNP has several trekking points, which, according to adventure groups, should be regulated. Two trekking routes inside the park, including the Uddigebande (3.5 km), a natural, 3-km rock formation called Hajjamana Bande and Mirza Hill (1.5 km), are ideal for trekking. 

“Trekking should be allowed only under the guidance of the forest staff. It can be a money-spinner for the department also,” suggests Suresh Chand, an adventurer from the City.

Besides elephants, the park is home to other herbivores such as gaur, chital, wildboars and sambars. The most frequently sighted carnivore is the leopard. There have been instances of sighting Dholes in the forest patches in 2005-06 and again in 2008 by several wildlife enthusiasts. Although the pugmarks of a tiger had also recorded in 2001, this was dismissed as a stray case. 

The trekking issue had recently come to the fore with the death of Satwik Shastri, a software engineer who had ventured into the forest with two of his friends. Yellappa Reddy suggests stricter norms to prevent illegal entry into the forest.

The Bannerghatta Biological Park, carved out of 600 acres of the 25,000 acre national park land, is also a significant semi-captive zoo in the country and hosts several indigenous and exotic birds and animals.

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