A conservationist, just recognised for his untiring efforts in saving the biodiversity-rich and ecologically-importantBhadra-Kudremuch landscape, says ‘low-impact tourism’ is the need of the hour.
DV Girish, a coffee grower from Chikmagalur, has just been awarded the ‘Protect the Tiger’ award under the RBS Earth Heroes Award for 2013. Girish has been working closely with forest officials in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve area, and has emerged as an influential community leader in protecting the national park.
Conservation challenges, Girish says, have changed significantly from the time that he started out as a conservationist some 20 years back. The challenges at that time were of resettlement of 13 villages located in the park, and also of iron ore mining that was devastating Kudremukh National Park.
At a time when “tiger tourism” has emerged as a significantly big sector in the tourism industry and debates in the public domain are about how much tourism can contribute to communities of the area, Girish feels it is not always the people of the area who benefit — but an affluent owner of a resort, who in all likelihood is based in a far-off city. Most of the time what local people end up doing are “washing plates” and “sweeping floors”.
Girish, of course, is not against tourism per se, and contends that tourism is “good” only if it is disciplined and does not, for instance, produce more garbage than what a wildlife habitat can handle.
While also managing a family coffee farm, Girish has spent the bulk of his time gaining skills and knowledge to become a naturalist and an able defender of wildlife.
He has mentored a generation of youth engaging them in conservation, and is involved with several influential and effective conservation groups, including Nature Conservation Guild, Bhadra Wildlife Trust and Wildlife Conservation Action Team of Chikmagalur (WildCat-C).
He has been actively involved in major conservation battles. Today, he does organised anti-poaching training programmes for forest personnel, but feels it is not a major area of concern now.
It is this wholesome wffort that has been recognised by RBS Foundation India, which instituted the ‘Earth Heroes Awards’ in 2011. RBS Foundation India is a non-profit organisation promoted by Royal Bank of Scotland.
Girish played an important role in the Bhadra voluntary resettlement project, widely regarded as a model resettlement project, that led to relocation of 450 families from 13 villages within Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The effort was sponsored by Project Tiger.
But as Girish points out, the challeges today are different. He expresses concern over the amount of promotion that is done to promote tiger tourism, and admits that “commercial” pressures can be extremely high. The best way out is low-impact tourism.