Embracing the wild side

Right direction

Embracing the wild side

The Karnataka government has declared this year as the ‘Year of the Wild’ and the move couldn’t have come a day sooner. Wilderness tourism has become the rage in Karnataka with the state recently announcing a series of initiatives to promote wildlife conservation.

     While many are of the opinion that this is indeed a move in the right direction, there are also others who feel that strict enforcement of rules is needed for the scheme to be a success.

“This is a great initiative by the government of Karnataka,” says Subru, advisory board member of ‘People for Animals’. “We, as humans, have taken so much from the earth over the years and given nothing back. We are seeing the extinction of countless species only because of unbridled human activity. If we keep up this pace, our future generations will be left with nothing but a barren planet. In such a bleak scenario, every small step counts.”

Wildlife photographer Jishnu Babu agrees. “I think this is indeed a good move. By promoting wilderness tourism, the government aims to make more people aware of the biological diversity we have here.”

Accolades aside, there is no dearth in the number of brickbats being directed at the authorities for their negligence and lack of direction when it comes to dealing with wildlife and related problems.

“I live around the forest around 10 months in a year and thus am in the heart of the man-animal conflict,” says Shaaz Jung, avid wild-lifer, writer, renowned naturalist, cat tracker and wildlife photographer. “For any conservation method to succeed, there has to be a better communication between locals and the authorities.”

Elaborating on this, he adds, “Over the past few years, due to the fantastic efforts of the forest department, there has been a significant increase in the prey density and therefore, the cat density. However, the area under forests has remained the same and this has forced the big animals to move outside the zone, leading to increased man-animal conflicts. A lot of the locals, and this includes the tribes, are against wild animals. Education, volunteer work and scientific approach can change this.”

Niveditha Krishnan agrees. An avid traveller and a nature lover, the MNC professional talks about how a ‘elitist’ approach will not work for something like wildlife conservation that needs the support of the people on the periphery. “The fact is Indians are turning to wildlife tourism like never before. Despite this growth, a miniscule portion of people living within 10km of a park receive direct income from tourism, and such revenue is rarely directed towards improving conservation efforts. There is also the risk that extensive tourism will lead to commercialisation of previously untouched tracts of jungle,” she warns.

But she is quick to add, “However, the fact that trained nature guides have been appointed to accompany naturalists on treks and educate tourists is a relief. Karnataka is indeed one of the torchbearers when it comes to showing that a government enterprise can contribute to responsible tourism.”

Still, award-winning nature and wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram is not impressed with all the hype surrounding the announcement. “Treks and tours are nothing new; if a state government is making a declaration, I expect a lot more work to be done to address the core issues. Like encroachment, poaching, habitat destruction and so on. Tourism is only one aspect of conservation. The government has to focus on making existing laws stricter.”

Jishnu adds how the importance of preserving flora and fauna can be inculcated at the school level itself for a better awareness among the next generation. “It is a very important subject, especially in the current context, and can be included in the curriculum in schools.”

It is being said that Karnataka is consequentially fast emerging as a dream destination for adventure travellers. A lot of work needs to be done if we are to avoid a rude wake-up call from that dream.

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