The Telegraph
Monday , October 15 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kaziranga sees silver lining in Puja rush

- Tourists ignore floods, poaching

Jorhat, Oct. 14: It takes more than two waves of floods and rhino-horn slashing poachers to keep tourists away from Kaziranga National Park if the heavy rush of Pre-Puja booking at the resorts in and around the world heritage site is anything to go by.

“We have 80 per cent booking during Durga Puja and more enquires are pouring in. Our booking for the tourists’ season has already started,” an official at IORA, a luxury tourist resort at Kaziranga, told The Telegraph today.

The park is scheduled to open for the tourist season on November 1 but going by the bookings, a large number of tourists would be visiting the park even during the Puja this year.

An official at Aranya, an Assam Tourism Department-run tourist lodge at Kohora, said the lodge would be half full during the Puja days — from October 20 to 25 — and bookings have already started for November 1 and further.

“Going by the enquiries from various parties, we are expecting the lodge to be full for at least a month from November 1,” she said.

A park official said although floods have badly damaged infrastructure (roads and bridges) inside the park this year, it would be opened to tourist as scheduled.

“We will have to restrict the visit of tourists to some portions of the park because of bad roads and broken bridges but the park would be opened in time,” he said.

The recent two waves of floods have not only damaged road and bridges inside the park but have also left more than 500 animals, mostly deer, dead. Poachers have dealt a severe blow to the national park this year by killing 17 rhinos since January this year. The last incident took place yesterday at the Agoratoli range of the park, where poachers shot dead a rhino and took its horn away.

The Kaziranga official said search operations were on to catch the poachers involved in the killing yesterday.

“We suspect that local villagers had helped the group of poachers who killed the rhino yesterday. It is totally impossible for the poachers to enter the park and kill rhinos without help from local villagers, who help the poachers in return of money,” he said.

Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said every incident makes the authorities more alert and they are working day in and day out to probe different angles. “We are revisiting our strategies,” he said, adding that every incident makes the department more perturbed.

A source said the movement of forest staff was not that swift to apprehend the poachers who were involved in yesterday’s incident.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told the media on the sidelines of a government function in Guwahati that rhino poaching and insurgency have been controlled and efforts are to on to bring these to an end as soon as possible.

However, despite the gloom of frequent rhino killings, the people engaged with the activities of the national park are ready to greet tourists who would be visiting the park this season.

Punen Gogoi, president of the Kaziranga Jeep Safari Association, said vehicles have been kept ready to ferry tourists during the Puja as large number of tourists visit the park every year. The association has nearly 150 jeeps.

“The tourists would not be allowed to enter the park till November 1 but we will take them on tours to the fringe areas of the park, from where animals, mostly and deer and rhinos, can be seen grazing,” Gogoi said.