SUBJECT :Volunteers of WildCAT-C, conservation group, have been keeping a check on the New Year’s Eve activities in Mullayanagiri mountain range for a few years now. During one such drive in 2017, the team has supported the forest department apprehend 11 poachers who had shot down two sambars in this area. 

Mullayanagiri mountain chain ;( top) unregulated number of vehicle at Baba Budangiri. Photo by Amarnath B and G Veeresh

Karnataka, January 18, 2020: Volunteers of WildCAT-C, conservation group, have been keeping a check on the New Year’s Eve activities in Mullayanagiri mountain range for a few years now. During one such drive in 2017, the team has supported the forest department apprehend 11 poachers who had shot down two sambars in this area.

This was my first new -year night –patrol with them.

Seven of us started the drive around 9 pm on December 31. Just over 2km from the town, we noticted brightly lit homestay right at the forest edge. A little ahead, two “eco-resorts” on the way to the hills had engaged their guests in ‘Enigma DJ Night’ and ‘Hawaiian New Year Party’.

By 12 am, we reached the mountains, overlooking the darkness of the forest on one side and the bright on the other. The expanding town was now creeping up the highest peak of Karnataka. Resort in coffee estates seemed like new townships. Loud music and the noise of crackers could be heard from every corner.

The geographical structure of the 50 km-long, crescent-shaped Mullayanagiri-Baba Budangiri Mountains

Chain appears like a fort built to protect the rich forests of Bhadra Tiger Reserve with tigers, elephants, leopards and many other wild animals, birds and reptiles.

Counter-productive

Steam of these mountains immensely feed rivers Bhadra, Vedavati and Yagachi. The idea of ecotourism in such sensitive areas was to boost rural economies by enabling tourists to experience nature and local culture while they saty with the people there. Unfortunately, the way it is executed is contradictory to the concept.

Standing on the mountains we workshipped, we thought of its sorry state and wondered if its close vicinity to the town itself became its bane.

Over 2,000 vehicles per day during weekends are moving up and down the mountain, choking every forest and mountain road. There was garbage everywhere and patches of grasslands were stinking.

Beautiful mountain roads were widened to accommodate an increasing number of tourists. Three –feet tall barricades for road safety were making it impossible for wildlife to move freely in their own habitat. The nest of resident rufous-belled hawk-eagle that we regularly watched had disappeared.

Although two small Indian civets brought smile on our faces, it was disheartening to see them feed on garbage. The young crowd on forest roads were making merry by lighting camfires, ignoring the vulnerability of the forest to catch fire. There is only one Mullayanagiri in the world and this was truly not the way to treat it.

A study that we conducted gave insights into the intensity of commercialization. In 2017, Chikkamagaluru district had 252 registered homestays, but over 500 were operating (current estimate is 1,000). As per the homestay guidelines, an existing house with not more than five lettable rooms could be run as a homestay, but most of the operating ones had more than this prescribed number and accommodated over 100 people a day.

Some homestay had even advertised night forest-drives, vension and other illegal activities as ‘entertainment’ on their websites.

I wonder what ‘eco’ in this kind of ecotourism? It has brought pubs and dance floors from cities to remote villages. There is hardly any promotion of local culture. In fact, the local lads are under peer pressure to adopt ‘DJ culture’ influenced by the city crowd.

After all, who is benefited? Those who care capable of building such facilities for the affordable crowd, most often big contractors or investors are to gain. Many people employed in such setup are not even locals as the investors find it cheaper to get labour from elsewhere.

A lady who works as a coffee labourer said, “My 10-year-old son demands his birthday celebration in homestay thinking that it’s the norm.” One other person said, “Even though we have good roads, thanks to tourism we cannot use them due to regular traffic jams.” Another local resident rued, “Tourists come here only to get drunk and dance in public. We feel insecure to go out in their presence.”

Unfortunately, this spoils the fun for responsible tourists too.

If ecotourism created job opportunities and improved local economy, why would it build frustration and anger among local people? There are already many examples in the country where ecotourism has gone wrong.

Thankfully, there are concerned citizens in the district. The owner of Woodway Homestay said, “We need sustainable tourism that can go on for 100 more years. We do not want the serenity and livability of the district to be destroyed.”

While the intentions are right, lack of planning, execution and enforcement is making ecotourism ‘ eco-destruction’.

What we need are strong tourism policies at both state and site levels with clear distinction of Dos-Don’ts and construction-nonconstruction zones.

Priority has to be given to the protection of water source, catchment areas, wildlife and corridors. Employments for the local population and safeguarding local tradition have to be ensured. More importantly, executing everything in a regulated manner helps resolve most nature tourism issues.

My hopes for these mountains rest on the facts that they still continue to exist and are declared as Conservation Reserve by the state government, with a few committed citizen working hard to protect them.


Source: www.deccanherald.com