‘Wildlife tourism during Covid will be a revelation’ | Nagpur News

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Naturalist Himanshu Bagde (42) started his career in sales and marketing in a multinational organization, but quit his job in 2009 to pursue his passion for the forest and tigers. Bagde has seen more than 500 tigers in Indian jungles over the past 25 years. He chose to follow his passion to become a “tiger trailer”, a wildlife photographer, a nature guide, and now a wildlife tourism consultant and conservationist.
With the opening of animal parks from October 1, TOI spoke to him about tourism at the time of Covid-19. September 27 is also celebrated as World Tourism Day.
Excerpts from an interview …
Q. Animal parks open from October 1st. What worries tourists the most?
A. Domestic tourists, professional photographers and other nature related people staying within 300 km radius and nearby cities and those who can travel by road will surely keep the date. There are a lot of apprehensions because of Covid and I think it will affect the psyches of people who visit. Those who stay nearby will go on game drives. Tourists traveling from metropolitan cities and other parts of the country are also said to be afraid to check in at resorts and are likely to skip their travel plans for the holidays. Professionals such as photographers and other scientific communities will take this risk and visit the park since it is their job. Due to travel restrictions, the chances of foreign tourists visiting the parks are low, at least until there is considerable respite from the pandemic in the home country as well as in India.
Q. What is the situation in the other most sought after tiger reserves?
A. The closures were absolutely necessary but, as a travel consultant, I can say that Covid has wiped out the tourism activities of tour operators, resort owners and those who live around the park and are completely dependent on it. The losses have been enormous but everyone is supporting each other to survive. We thought before October everything would be back to normal, but with the increase in cases, it seems normal in any tiger reserve is a distant dream. Tourist confidence is at an all-time low, travel arrangements are falling short, and the additional insecurities surrounding staying in hotels and resorts make things difficult.
Q. With Covid-19 at its peak, how can tourists and animals stay safe?
A: Tourists have no choice but to adhere to distancing standards for their own safety. The existing safari rules are very strict, which ensures that man and animal do not approach. Tourists will need to be more disciplined and shouldn’t spit anywhere. Vidarbha guides and drivers have a habit of consuming “kharra” and spitting in the open air. Parks will need to ensure that urinals, which are generally in poor condition, are disinfected. Maintaining hygiene should be the park’s top priority. If all precautions are taken by tourists and park management, risks to tourists and animals will be minimized.
Q. When the crown is spreading alarmingly, is it wise to open the parks?
A. I think we have to learn to live with this pandemic until the vaccines are available. Everyone develops antibodies to endure this virus. So we can’t just shut it down and just sit there. How much do we have to rely on the government to support us? It is therefore a good and bold decision to open the parks. Once a few people visit the parks and share their experiences, others will build their confidence and this sector may soon experience a revival. The bottom line is that we need to be strict while following Covid-19 guidelines.
Q. Are foreign tourists visiting or showing interest?
A. Tourist visas are not issued. Thus, foreigners will not be able to visit the parks until at least February of next year. Very few take special authorizations and make travel arrangements.
Q. Do you think the NTCA diktat on the number of visitors will affect tourism?
A. The NTCA has a key role to play in tiger conservation. Since the pandemic ravaged the country, he is also worried about the spread of Covid-19. Although the restrictions emanate from the Home Office (MHA), I strongly believe that the NTCA should push to allow six people in a safari vehicle if they are from the same family. In Madhya Pradesh, online reservations can be made for six people. I also believe that the restrictions on children under 10 and over 65 for safari should be removed. This will affect the flow of domestic tourism in the parks.
Q. Are our parks equipped to deal with the spread of Covid-19?
A. Parks must equip themselves with the basic equipment necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. There are few initiatives like the use of disinfectants and tire baths that have been taken by the authorities to deal with the situation.
Q. At the time of Covid-19, how should we consider animal tourism?
A. Wildlife tourism, especially in a trying time like Covid, will be a revelation in the truest sense of the word. Tourists will realize how things are in nature regardless of the lack of urgency there. Humans for multiple reasons have destroyed our nature and so we are in trouble. Focusing on wildlife and nature can inspire humans to act proactively to conserve nature. Here, no one is asking you to give up your economic interests, but we are simply asking you to conserve nature. Ecotourism is the only thing that can be done without harming nature.


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