By Amit S. Upadhye
Bengaluru: Sports Utility Vehicles occupied by select guests from Jungle Retreat, a privately owned resort located between Nagarhole and Wayanad Tiger Reserves, trail off onto jungle highways in the dead of night. The occupants are equipped with high power flash lights and cameras, all set to chase big cats deep into the forest. These illegal safaris were brought to the notice of the Kerala government two days ago. The government in its turn ordered an inquiry into these alleged night safaris and illegal animal tracking.
Conservationists allege that the resort has been illegally constructed without necessary permissions from the state governments and National Board for Wildlife. The resort is surrounded by the Tolpatti wildlife range, which lies adjacent to the sensitive Nagarhole Tiger Reserve and passes close to an elephant corridor. The resort has built a watch tower right next to the forest and placed salt licks around the property to attract wild animals like elephants and guars.
Conservationists smelled a rat when online reviews by guests talked about tiger sightings, tracking cats and walking inside the core areas of forests. Some of the reviews also mentioned the night safaris and exciting tiger chases. The reviews also showed that nearly half a dozen heavy-duty torches are used during these night safaris. Video footage made available to Deccan Chronicle tigers and leopards being chased by a safari van in the night.
Sreejith P.R., an advocate from Wayanad said the resort does not have permission to conduct such activities in the Tiger Reserve. “Trekking inside tiger areas is banned and the resorts cannot create an environment to attract the wildlife. Online reviews that caught our attention had guests commenting on the salt licks placed around the property to attract elephants and guars. We are hoping for immediate action against the resort owners. The resort must also be shut down,” he said.
Conservationists said a number of private resorts outside forests offer night safaris for an extra charge. In 2010, before night traffic was banned along the Mysore-Manantawadi Road, resorts in Nagarhole also conducted night safaris of their own. “The road which separates Nagarhole forest from Wayanad in Kerala has now become the new hotspot for illegal safaris. There is no closure notice on the road connecting Kutta, Tolpattti, Katikulam and Bawali and the illegal safaris continue to exist adding to human-wildlife clashes.