Kaziranga mulls ways to keep tourists coming

Jorhat, July 27: The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is trying to work out a system that will not hamper tourism at Kaziranga National Park following the Supreme Court's decision to ban all tourism in core areas of tiger reserves.

NTCA member Firoz Ahmed today told The Telegraph that tourism and conservation go hand in hand and so a mechanism for them to coexist has to be worked out.

The problem is that Kaziranga's core area includes the entire 430sqkm area of the park. And, tourists come to the park for wildlife safaris on elephants and jeeps.

Jeeps travel to about 35km inside the Kohora range, 22km into Bagori, 30km into Burapahar and 45km inside the Agaratoli range of the park.

In order to work around this problem, the NTCA is considering redrawing the boundaries of park's core area."We will have to work on a strategy so that the core area of Kaziranga National Park is restricted to only a certain portion, allowing tourists to visit areas that are outside the core area," Ahmed said.

The July 24 order of the Supreme Court created panic in the tourism lobby with jeep safari operators and hotel owners near the park fearing a sharp decline in tourism.

The president of the Kaziranga Jeep Safari Association, Punen Gogoi, said the Supreme Court's order would hit business hard and render hundreds of youths near the park jobless.

"We have 150 jeeps under the association where more than 500 youths are involved. More jeeps are engaged with the various hotels and resorts. We are totally depended on the flow of tourists to the national park. The Supreme Court ban will render these youths jobless," he said.

According to Gogoi, the association members held a meeting with the park authorities yesterday and requested them to come out with a solution so that tourism activities are not hit following the ban.

"The park authorities have assured us that they will also work on some strategy after consulting with experts so that both conservation and tourism can coexist," he said.

The association suggested that the jeeps be allowed to travel up to certain areas so that the jeep association members can carry on with their business.

"We suggested that the jeeps be allowed to travel shorter distances unlike earlier times," Gogoi said.

He said tourism has not hampered conservation efforts at Kaziranga and the population of animals has increased. "Rhino population has increased to over 2,000 this year from 1,165 in 1990," he said.

A Kaziranga official agreed with Gogoi's observation and said the Supreme Court order is a general order concerning all tiger reserves in the country.

"A few tiger reserves in the country have tourist resorts inside these reserves. This is not the case with Kaziranga," he said.