Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kanha, the tiger kingdom on decline!

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”...Gary Snyder 

Many die hard Kanha forest fans may raise an eye brow over the heading of this write-up few may even frown but being a dedicated Kanha fan by myself yet I am sharing what I have seen in my recent trip to the undisputed tiger kingdom of India. In last over 10 years I have been to Kanha more than 30 times & I remember my every trip with minute details as each time it has given me something new making me come again & again there. Just like the quote says I feel like home at Kanha & not in forest or any tourist spot. Every day at Kanha is full of excitement & the mystic forest  always surprise you by the action always on, in the Sal's which grew taller every year.

My this trip also fulfilled two of my long pending wishes, I was telling to the guide in a casual chat during the Gypsy ride that I haven't seen Wild cat in good day light & don't have images & then each time I have seen leopard at Kanha it was on ground whereas the stories of leopard being seen on the tree are on every ones tongue at Kanha! And my both wish came true in this trip; I saw a full grown furry wild cat warming in winter sun & a leopard couple on tree! What more an avid forest lover can expect from the forest? Now you will ask then why such heading to this sharing? Well over the years during my visits in nearly every season & month of the year I have never seen so less numbers of tourists in my trip! The dhabas providing yummy food outside the park were deserted with only the locals having cup of tea & chatting about the summer season, wishing it will generate good business. Never such was the scene, even on a week-end there were Gipsy's available outside the park at visiting hours & after safari time no rush seen at the famous Burman or Mohan dhaba for snacks & tea by the tourist on coldest of the day!

Is it sign of decline of the numero uno position of the park amongst forest lovers? May be yes as the reasons are many for this situation. Despite sincere efforts from the park director & the staff for maintaining the park & protecting wild life, yet why the tourist’s numbers is decreasing is the question which I asked to guides, drivers & localities. The reasons are multi folded, no doubt about the forest its evergreen as it was years back but still the fact remains that out of 100 tourists visiting the park 90 wants to see the tiger only! And with the limited budget because of costing of stay, Gypsy rents & park fees not all tourists can afford to take more than 2 or 3 safaris. And they want to see the tiger in that much short time which indeed is a difficult job in a forest which is spread over 1600 sq kilometers! With Tiger show has been stopped & with better options available in form of Tadoba, Nagzira, Pench MP & Pench Maharashtra; many tourists especially coming from Mumbai & Pune are opting for these destinations. Mainly they are much nearer to Nagpur than Kanha i.e. all of these parks are hardly two hour’s drive from central place like Nagpur where has with the road conditions Kanha is nearly 6 hour drive. Making it wasting two days i.e. going & coming from Nagpur in the process & then the travel costs are there. A private taxi to Kanha from Nagpur takes at least 7000 rupees to drop & pickup. Also the park entry charges at Maharashtra parks are one third of Kanha park entry charges making them much cheaper option. And then at last there is sure sighting of the king of the forest i.e. the Tiger at Tadoba & Nagzira because the spread is small & the forest is dry making sighting of Tiger as well other animals easy than that in Kanha. Though it’s unfortunate that a forest is lot more than just tiger yet the fact remains that we are unable to wipe out the forest safaris tag of "See Tiger", so the main or only attraction of the safari is the tiger!

Another factor is things like routes & rotation system of vehicles as well drivers. It may be good in keeping benefit of equal opportunities for all locals who are dependent on the park & tourists for their day to day earnings but a good driver is something very much important in forest & a regular tourist if wants to have a driver with whom he is tuned, then having new driver on each safari is very disturbing. Because you need to get tuned with driver for stopping at proper timing & picking up right moment of an animal or a bird. Why can’t the park management make separate policy for the tourists which are taking or booking more than six safaris at a time & allot them zone as well driver as per their wish or demand? As there always going to be a difference between the interests of an armature visitor & frequent professional visitor. We can keep some tickets quota as privileged clients & charge them higher for that. Such flexibility will help in making a professional tourist to come more often than getting discouraged with the present safari arrangements. Also there is a high need of not just registering the drivers but give them training like it’s given to the guides; about calls , driving manners & work in hand with the guide. Another issue is of booking, now with limited vehicles entry i.e. in all hardly hundred with all four zones is Kanha, Kisli, Sari & Mukki & online booking with 90 days in advance facility; most of the bookings will be blocked by foreigners or travel agencies making it impossible for an individual family. And Indian tourists are never famous for planning travel in advance their holidays so this again is major aspect in deleting Kanha from the travel agenda in vacation. There has to be some quota available for 30 days booking plans. As I have witnessed, the zone bookings were showing full online & actually there were no vehicles in park, this is because though the 1500 rupees park entry fee for one safari may seem big for common Indian tourists but its peanuts for the foreigners or big travel houses. So they book in advance& may not come in actual as for them the cancellation charges loss is nothing.

Then there are things like many major routes have been closed abruptly making sightings more rare & difficult. Whereas parks like Pench have made new routes making forest more explorable off-course keeping within guidelines of Supreme Court. When Kanha has such vast landscape I personally think that they should not only open up the blocked routes but should carve & make new routes as after all people come there to see more & more of forest & not just to see the same age old routes. Also no toilet facilities on the safari way is there, one has to come to center or at gate for the same, making this very inconvenient for the elderly people as well kids especially in cold winters of Kanha nature’s call does make it difficult on a safari with now urinals at frequent intervals in the park. Agreed there is issue of hygiene & sanitation at forest chowkies but we can have now water less urinals with modern technology in. As we can install them without harming the environment even this can be helpful for the park staff too. And we can have them sponsored by corporate.

One more significant thing I observed this time is high increase in numbers of guides as well drivers eating heavily tobacco or guthka, the percentage are alarming & at very young age. Reasons may be any like extreme weather or work stress of odd hours working yet forest department needs to do something about it as conservation of forest means conserving the people also surrounding the forest. Also the poor working condition of helpers or bell boys at resorts is another neglected issue. These are mostly local boys & they work on very less payment & nearly full day working making them away from education thus an entire generation is being denied the basic education here. Also they are not financially self sufficient with the poor salary they are getting & are unable to buy even basic things like shoes or sweaters to protect themselves from extreme cold.

Many a will ask what’s big deal in above things as what it matters if tourists come or don't at Kanha & what if an entire generation is getting addicted to guthka from a remote place like Kanha? 

Well, places like Kanha are not just National but World treasure with the kind of biodiversity it has, making it home for thousand of species who otherwise don't have any shelter left in urban world. And the more people will visit the more they will know importance of such places & nature conservation as its one subject which can’t be taught in class rooms or books. And for that we need to make such places more explorable to common man as if he gets aware about the forests then there is some hope left for the species like Tiger or else some day we will just be reading about Kanha in books only! And this is not just forest departments but every body’s responsibility to do something about the cause as a heaven like Kanha gives memorable moments to all of us & it’s high time to ask our self what we are giving back in return to Kanha?

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

Envo-Power Committee, Credai, Pune

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  1. Dear Sanjay Sir,
    This was a great insight into the problems at Kanha. a very well written blog!!
    Some of the things I have seen change, while working as a Naturalist at Kanha for 04 yrs are that, the old days are gone when there was no route system or zone system. Kisli, Sarhi, Mukki or Kanha were accessible to everyone.. those were the glory days, and are history now.. I would say the need of implementation of such strict regulations by the deptt, is because we as Indians are really bad at self policing. We need someone to set regulations!!! Be it at the traffic junctions or inside the most pristine natural environs. Its not just me or you... its everyone, as the urge for a tiger sighting (used to) make the drivers and guides go berserk to get the best spot for the best shot!!! Everyone has been promoting these places for just the Tiger!! be it a local driver or even the Govt of India in its Incredible India campaign.. if the tourists book their tour based on those adverts, then they expect to see the Tiger, and the chase begins.. Surely the Tiger is an enigmatic creature, but promoting the species and not the park is creating some trouble!! Atleast at Kanha, the Drivers and guides to take some interest in showing u other creatures like the Jungle Cat, Barasingha, etc. Reg, the no of vehicles, I feel somehow that one's who crave for the wildlife, will book their safaris in advance, and for them zone should not be an issue.. last minute planners according to the FD, are not wildlife enthusiasts, they come there to party.. which in some cases has proved to be true!! For this attitude, the attitude of lodge owners is a key factor. people book their rooms before booking a safari, reflects their priorities!!
    the tickets are really expensive for Indians and Foreigners as well, and considering the fact that the parks in neighboring state are cheaper!! but the main motive of increasing entry fees was to reduce the the number of tourists. NP's in India were designated to be educative for Indians, and then they make them expensive to eliminate the lower income group entering. this is totally wrong. But limiting the number of gypsies is a good decision that i feel.I have seen people selling off their farms and fields for buying 02nd or 03 gypsy (inspite of already having 01)so they increase their income. A new property comes up on that sold piece of land(85% properties were built post 2001). Kanha cannot sustain that many tourist facilities. its a fragile ecosystem and falls in a grey area in terms of ground water levels, but the properties are coming up with huge swimming pools and all! So by reducing the number of gypsies entering in the park, they have ultimately given a signal that more gypsies are not required. so it has had an effect on land dealings in Kanha. and by introducing the rotation system, FD is creating equal opportunities for all the vehicle owners. Just like the rotation for guides, everyone would get used to vehicle rotation system! They surely did have a driver and guide training courses in September 2012.
    Tobacco and Gutkha is surely a problem and all drivers and guides have strict instructions not to have it inside the park. Outside is beyond control of anyone, its a personal choice! I'm proud to say that where I worked last, there's 99% local employment from the immediate village (01% being me and the senior naturalist) and I've seen all of them getting good payments.
    Reg roads I would say that they surely should not block roads unless there's some maintenance or other problems faced. but I'm totally against carving new roads.
    I totally agree on your view that it not just the duty of the Forest Department, but as a responsible traveller, it is each one of us who is responsible for maintaining the natural environs of Kanha NP (and all other parks as well)!
    Indeed, your views are truely an indicator as to how one feels when there's something wrong in their home!
    These are just some of my points and not disregarding any of your views!

    Thank You,

  2. dear kaustubh,
    thanks for detailed analysis. All said and done if u are keeping a forest open then keep it open in a good way is what i feel As its a national treasure so every one has got their right on it, & forest is something which u cant teach in just books. If u want to let the forests survive & so along the species like tiger then each person living should visit forests to get feel of them & then understand their responsibility towards the cause & for that u need to make policies where forests would be accessible to common man off course without disturbing the wild life!

    Millions of kids who goes to govt or municipal schools cant afford proper food leave about knowing forests& its these kids who holds future of the forests in our country. Some how forest tourism now in our country is just for professionals or for riches & its high time we should give a thought for the same & do some thing for the same, is what i feel.

    I dont know why u are against opening new routes as its giving more chance to explore the forests & as I said above it can be controlled.



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