Right of Way
Roads have been the bane of most of our wild areas. Some of the pristine wildlife habitats have been dissected by roads. In the early part of the 21st Century, the motorable roads were much less. The dirt roads were not much of a menace, as less population and a low frequency of vehicles on these roads didn’t create much of adverse impact on the wildlife.
Today, the quality of roads has improved a lot. The dirt roads have given way to metalled four lane or at least two lane roads. Increase in vehicles and increase in disposable incomes have led to a boom in tourism. The improvement in quality of roads has led to more and more people driving to destinations, instead of taking public transport.
And along with that comes accidents, throwing of garbage, teasing animals, zooming past animals at high speeds to terrorise them etc. At times, you would be amazed at the level of immaturity and recklessness shown by the people.
The road from Bandipur to Ooty passes through the Mudumalai Tiger reserve. The shorter road passes through Segur and is known as the Segur road. It is steep and several years back diesel vehicles could not negotiate the steep inclination of this ghat road. Hence most of the traffic used to pass through the other road which is about 30 kilometers longer than the Segur road.
I was coming back from an afternoon Safari in Bandipur National Park in July 2008. Dusk was fast approaching and the showers few minutes back had decresed the light. I was driving slowly when a vehicle from the opposite direction slowed down near me and the occupants excitedly told me that there is a herd of elephants ahead. After moving ahead in the winding road, about hundred meters or so, I came across a herd of elephants. The elephants numbering about forty were feeding near the road. I brought my Safari (an SUV) to the left and parked. Soon other vehicles overtook me and stopped about 15 feet away from the elephants. The elephant herd had three small calves, about a few months old, who appeared to be still in awe of their trunks.
A lady from one of the vehicles, got down and was trying to move closer to the elephant. People don’t realise the difference between pet animals and the wild ones. Soon a herd of four Gaurs appeared and tried to cross from the left to the right. One of the adolescent elephants, with the impetuousness of youth, started chasing the gaur. In the meanwhile, vehicles from both the sides had created a traffic jam. People had got down from their vehicles and were watching the drama, oblivious of the danger of being too close to these wild animals.
The Gaur was crossing about a few feet from the cars. The cars appear to be dwarfed in front of the Gaur. An annoyed Gaur, can cause significant damage to a vehicle like Maruti in the picture. Apart from the danger to the people, due to their irresponsible acts of getting two close to these animals; it also causes stress to the animals as they are not used to such close proximity with humans.
Most of the people are ignorant. A quick briefing of people entering the sanctuary should help. The briefing can be just two or three lines while opening the forest entry gates, like “Please don’t Honk”, “Please don’t litter” and “please maintain 30kmph speed limit”.
People also violate rules as they don’t feel that there is any patrolling by the forest officials. Forest department is in perennial shortage of staff. Most of them are old and on the verge of retirement. Meager salary also doesn’t help in motivating them.
Most of the vehicles given for patrolling are used by the officials. So the forest department should provide battery operated vehicles that you mostly find in Golf courses. These vehicles, apart from stopping pollution, also won’t be misused. As officials won’t be seen taking these vehicles for any other purpose.
What you can do:
You can spread the message and educate people.
You can write a letter to the forest department and the ministry highlighting the issues and ask them to sanction more posts for the forest department and urge them to fill the existing vacancies.
I look forward to your comments and your ideas on ‘Right of way’ article. Let us know when you take any action, so that I can mention it here. It will serve as motivation for others.