Sorry for not writing much last season, I will try better this season to keep you all informed of the happenings here in Bandhavgarh.
Firstly, the 2009-2010 season here opened only on the 16th October. This meant a Divali Holiday rush straight away. This rush is still going on with the park having been full for a solid week or more till now. Satyendra and I have not been into the park at all till now for a number of reasons but mainly because we believe the true wildlife lovers and those with sympathy for proper concerned wildlife viewing are loosing out under new rules. It will make it very much more difficult to show true enthausiasts of natural habitat and wildlife the beauty and wealth of Bandhavgarh rather than what is now happening which is to drive madly around with the hope of possiblity seeing something.
No longer can you be a bird watcher who takes time to drive to the registration point at Hardia and ignore the tiger centric vehicles rushing here and there. Now no one has a choice to ignore anything as they are sent down routes morning and afternoon and routes too and from Hardia in both instances. So all follow tracks and dust to get caught up in chaos if tigers are seen. The beauty of Bandhavgarh is and should be its wealth of interest and true wildlife watchers are those who choose to ignore safari parks and zoos. But now Bandhavgarh is little more than a safari park with vehicles backed up one after the other as the first pushes any animal off the road for those behind to miss totally. For me and others this cannot be considered interesting or forfilling. For anyone wishing to see Indian wildlife for the first time perhaps it is enough but it makes learning pointless and knowledge of wildlife virtually useless. It makes guides just extra passengers who point out animals like signposts and makes drivers nothing more than drivers. This is not education or learning it is mindless viewing simply to say I saw this and that and drove the whole park in a day.
It has taken those who have passion and understanding for this park years to gain there knowledge but it takes seconds for those in management to think up systems that turn the parks into no more than picnic leisure days out. If the country wants to save its animals it needs to understand that learning is the key. That offering choices is a must and that if it wants interest in wild places to grow it cannot turn every aspect of the forest into pure leisure and adventure. To save tigers and other wildlife the country cannot afford to ignore education and what real naturalists offer to their visitors. Personnally if I cannot make a choice to sit at a waterhole for two hours and see what ever happens happen I am little interested to drive 60km to see only dust and vehicles. The afternoons in Bandhavgarh when one could make choices to avoid crowds were the best. I would always go in the opposite direction to all other vehicles. I would enjoy the peace as would my clients. If we saw something, fantastic, but if we did not then even the pleasure of having the quiet solitude was enough.
I would also add that making route systems has never been a solution. If clients do not see animals then corruption and cheating takes over. In Ranthambore drivers do go off routes or cheat the system. Here in Bandhavgarh till now drivers and guides have cheated the system to gain routes they want or simply ignore them to gain the best viewing. For sure all come to Bandhavgarh to see the tiger because till now it has been the best place. But will it remain so I am not sure under this system. If tourism drops then the tigers will suffer. It is interesting to note that when zone changes were made last season and a quarter of Tala Range was added to Magdhi few tourists went to Magdhi Range and when they did few saw a tiger there. Two tigresses roam in this area now in Magdhi Range and were seen on a regular basis and monitored well. But now no one knows their true status, whether they have cubs or not or even whether they are still alive?? No tracking is done on these tigers and even though no "tiger shows" are happening in Tala elephants still go out in Tala to track tigers we all know are there. Why are these elephants not going out in Magdhi, Kalwah, Panpatha and Khitauli. Why is the Forest Dept not offering both monitoring and insentives. Its all nonsense to me and not in the wildlife's interest nor the tigers nor the tourists.
So what can be done??? I personnally see the chances of the tigers survival in the present climate of pressures and unthinking controls as slim. Destroying tourism, the very thing that has helped to build tiger numbers in various park is not the way. Building tourism in an appropriate useful manner is the key. Birdwatching hides, watchtowers, walking trails, elephant viewing and rides, bycycling, night drives, special interest packages, alternative viewing for true wildlifers etc. Choices.
And finally. Even though I have said Safari Parks are not places true wildlifers go I say now that the best place to go to see MP wildlife is Bhopal Zoo! You can see white tigers, true tigers, sloth bears, hyeana, black buck, gharial, snakes, lion even, plus more. And you can walk. And its not a zoo like most zoos its more like a safari park, but better than Bandhavgarh under the route system unless your really a lucky person or have the cash to pay for special permission or favours!
Bye the way I will at some point enter the park and maybe I will be lucky. I am in no doubt I will visit less and in no doubt I will get frustrated by the system. It will be interesting for sure.