| Tourists in Kaziranga National Park. File picture |
Kaziranga, Jan. 23: Business and wildlife are on a collision course at Kaziranga National Park with park authorities wanting to impose regulations on tourist flow.
The restrictions are likely to hit the tourism industry, including business ventures such as luxury resorts and jeep safaris, hard.
The owners of several luxury resorts near the park have opposed the move, fearing that the restrictions might lead to fewer tourists.
“We make a living off Kaziranga. If restrictions are imposed on tourists, we will be doomed,” an owner of a resort near the park told this correspondent.
Businesses associated with the park make huge profits. The Jeep Safari Association of the park earned a revenue of Rs 10 lakh in November last year. The park remains open for tourists from November to April every year.
Known worldwide as the abode of one-horned rhinos, Kaziranga was declared a tiger reserve in 2006. Since then, there has been pressure from the Centre to impose restrictions on the flow of tourists to the national park.
The Royal Bengal tiger is given top priority in the conservation list at Kaziranga since funds from the Centre come only for protection of the tiger. Earlier, central funds were also released for protection of the rhinos. However, the aid stopped once the rhino population reached a safe zone with the last count pegging it at 2,200.
With Project Tiger came a set of new guidelines that implied restrictions on the flow of tourists. The park authorities have so far failed to the follow the guidelines as it affects businesses.
However, Project Tiger being the only source of funds for the park, the authorities are now forced to implement these guidelines.
Park director Surajeet Dutta said 70 tigers were found in a census carried out by camera-trapping method in half the portion of the national park recently. “We are expecting about 120 tigers in Kaziranga,” he said.
In a separate census conducted by an NGO a couple of years ago, Kaziranga was found to have the highest density of tigers in the world. Dutta said the 430 square km area of the national park would be declared a core area very soon and the flow of tourists would be restricted.
Construction of new hotels and restaurants near the park area has also been banned.
“There has been a tremendous pressure on the animals with a large number of tourists visiting the park regularly. We need to restrict the tourist flow as it has an impact on the animals. Moreover, mushrooming of hotels and resorts has also harmed the animals since most of these are built on areas where animals visit frequently,” Dutta told this correspondent.
“The rhinos at Mihimukh in the Kohora range are almost used to humans. This is not a good sign at all,” he said.
According to norms, not more than 50 vehicles are allowed inside the park on a particular day.
Dutta said the authorities had made other plans for tourists. Jeep and elephant safaris would be introduced in the newly-added areas of the national park to reduce pressure on the core area.
The park has been extended to about 860 square km with new areas being added in recent times. “This year itself, we have opened four entry points for tourists. We are also thinking of starting boat safaris in some areas very soon,” he said.