By Seema Sharma
Dehradun: Authorities at Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR) plan to start home stays and elephant safari to boost eco-tourism in the forest area. Permission has been sought for the safari from the state's chief wildlife warden (CWLW).
Forest minister Dinesh Aggarwal told TOI, "Hotels and resorts around Rajaji will be allowed only within certain set parameters. I am, however, keen on developing eco-tourism in RTR so local people can have effective means of livelihood that can generate revenue for locals as well as for the state government. Local people will be encouraged to develop their homes for facilitating home stays. All facilities and training for this will be provided. Tourists will also have hands-on experience of the culture of the local people."
Uttarakhand chief wildlife warden DVS Khati told TOI that the proposal to start the elephant safari would soon be cleared: "We have some four elephants in RTR who otherwise serve no purpose. Two of these are domestic elephants, two have been sent by the Delhi high court for shelter under a case few years ago. I will get the court's permission to engage both the elephants for safari. We will also try to get some more elephants from the Karnataka forest department."
He said the elephants will provide not only rides, but could also be roped in for patrolling.
Director Neena Grewal of the RTR said that beside homestays, forest authorities plan to have tented accommodation for visitors in RTR as the 20 rooms or so now available would fall short once tourist flow picks up.
IP Bopanna, senior scientist, Wide World Fund for Nature, said, "In comparison to the Gypsies or other vehicles used for patrolling, the elephants create least disturbance and facilitate better overview. The wild animals too do not shy away from them. Elephant rides would certainly boost tourism in the RTR. Above all, patrolling, which is so hard in the monsoon, can be managed well with the help of elephants. There is dire need to procure more elephants for RTR. Corbett Tiger Reserve has eight elephants used for patrolling as well as safari."
RTR director Grewal said mahouts have been imparted training by the trainers from the mahout community of Assam in the past; if needed, such training can be organised again, she said.