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Ken Betwa Project : Plan to Massacre Millions of Trees Give Goosebumps

 India should  drop the idea  of Ken Betwa  Linking Project (KBLP) which will require felling of  2 to 4  million trees in the emerald forests of Panna national park . Think of the  loss of this staggering  number of trees  in the backdrop of the  unprecedented summers that the country  experienced in the year 2024. Many parts of Bundelkhand where Panna  is situated recorded 49 degrees Celsius while the mercury  soared to 52.9 degrees C in Delhi, later corrected by the government to 50 degrees C (49.9). For a moment forget  the loss of tiger habitat  in the park, think over our own survival. Referring to the  special morphological significance and unique biodiversity of Panna national park, the central empowered committee of the Supreme Court  on the KBLP  observed ," implementing this project would result in the complete breakdown of the evolutionary processes of millions of years." It warned of the widespread ecological devastation.River Ken  is lifeline of  the tiger reser

A Tiger Procession in Ranthambhore

 

Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore

A video of tiger sighting  going viral on social media and shot in  Ranthambhore national park with  200 to 300 tourists following the cat in canters and gypsies stunned the wildlife lovers. Despite the presence of a large tourist crowd the tiger was walking down the dusty pathway of the park – unimpressed and undeterred. A senior wildlife official termed it an “unpleasant sight” and “disgusting to say the least''. For the tourists, the tiger  here seems to have become an object of entertainment while for the tourist operators and the forest department, a revenue generating commodity. The conservation aspect seems to be missing somewhere.

Tiger Sandwitched Between Tourist Vehicles   

Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore

There were at least seven canters and some gypsies full of tourists, behind the tiger -identified as T121- and as many vehicles in front of the cat moving in reverse direction. The tiger was sandwiched between the vehicles near a junction of zone number 4 and 5.  “ It happened because the  vehicles meet at the junction  to go in different directions”, a guide explained. “ the video was shot with malafied intention by someone present  in the vehicle right in front of the tiger”, he added.  The video was believed to have been shot on June 3 , a tourist operator said.  Saturdays and Sundays are very crowded  as a large number of tourists turn to the park. One canter can carry atleast 20 tourists and most of the time onthe weekends they are overloaded with as many as 25, a guide claimed .Most wildlife tourists prefer to go on a canter safari because  it is cheaper than a gypsy ride . “It provides a special wildlife experience”, a  hotel operator said. 

Also Read: Is Forest Fencing Issue Impacting Cheetah Project ? 

Tiger tourism has increased rapidly in Ranthambhore and is famous world over for tiger sightings. There is a powerful tourism lobby operating in the park and many times doesn’t mind bending the laws.  This is among the most visited tiger reserves in India and contributes heavily to the local economy.  The park  earns  about Rs 25 crore annually  through tourism. Besides, there is a multi crore business   of hotels and resorts dotted  in the small and backward  district of Sawai Madhopur  in Rajasthan. Results of a research  in 2016- 17  said, “Ranthambhore has gained an enviable reputation  and people visit to see a hugely increased wild tiger and wildlife population. It is attracting 469,850 visitors , and raised an extraordinary Rs 19.57 crore (US$2.85 m) in park fees alone in 2016-17 and generated Rs 217.2crore (US$33.36m) per year to the local economy”. These earnings increased manifold in the following years, exerting pressure on tigers and exposing them to tourism.

 Negative Impact On Wildlife

Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore

Vehicular traffic  from  tourists would have a negative  impact on wildlife, a study revealed in 2015. This was the period when governments in the  states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan also  reduced the period of  annual shut down  of the parks from four months to three ( June to September was changed from July to September)  . The study was conducted in Kanha and Bandhavgarh  reserves of Madhya Pradesh . The same year scientists from Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad     conducted the research . It revealed tigers suffer from high levels of physiological stress due to wildlife tourism and a large number of vehicles entering the parks. Prolonged stress can adversely affect both survival and reproduction, the study found.

Also Read:50 Years After  Project Tiger: New Challenges & the Road Ahead  

 “Chronically elevated glucocorticoid levels can negatively impact growth, reproductive success, immunity, and cause muscular atrophy,” senior author Govindhaswamy Umapathy who was principal scientist and project leader wrote. Many times aggression shown by tigers in Ranthambhore bolstered the study.  Irritated by the  vehicular traffic and  number of incidents of tigers chasing tourist vehicles have been reported  almost on a regular basis from Ranthambore. A frightening 19-second video of an incident, was tweeted  in December 2019  and it  showed  a tiger menacingly chasing a safari  gypsy. In January 2022 a similar incident was reported and  as a precautionary measure, the route where the incident occurred was closed for tourists and the tiger’s behavior was monitored through camera traps.

Awareness Required For Healthy Tourism Pratices 

Water bottle lying near Tiger

There are also instances when tourists litter the national parks  leaving behind  plastic bottles , empty wrappers and even ploy bags. Ntizen science is the need of the hour to respect nature and its denizens, said a senior official of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) .They need to differentiate such tourism from mass visitation destinations. “ This calls for a strong thematic area in school , college curriculum , apart from andemonstrative action to emphasise the occurrence of tiger , other wildlife and their habitat as indicators of well being of life support ecosystem services “, he said  Treating them as a mere object of entertainment would disturb their day to day normal rhythm and put them under stress. The life cycles of tigers and other wild animals get disturbed leading to loss of their fecundity, another official said. But what about the park managers ( officials) ? 

Also ReadTiger In Chain, Arunachal Forest Minister Goes For Walk

Another  senior official of NTCA said “ The park managers should abide by the carrying capacity and they should not be a victim of misplaced enthusiasm to allow things to degenerate like this ( the latest incident) .As far as the mushrooming hotels and  other facilities, the district authorities need to be vigilant about the landscape and avoid mushrooming of unsustainable tourism infrastructure. For tiger viewing a safari can be thought of nearby under natural settings with a modest entry fee , run by the host community, he said.

By Deshdeep Saxena

banner image , a video grabs. Tiger with water bottle credit Apratim Sinha shown in the image 

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