Tribal show, plastic recycling: Amrabad Tiger Reserve eco-tours aim to go beyond jungle safari

The recent decision by the Telangana Forest Department to open the Amrabad Tiger Reserve (ATR), one of the country’s largest tiger reserves, for ecotourism is proving to be a success, with authorities saying Daily slots for the tour package are sold out until mid-January 2022.

Telangana’s two tiger reserves – ATR in southern Telangana and Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) in the north – were once off-limits to visitors. By opening the ATR now, the authorities aim to create a better sense of ownership and belonging among people towards forests. According to department officials, opening up one or two tracts of land near the main forest areas for tourism would also help to garner public opinion in favor of better protection and conservation of the area.

About 140 km from the state capital, the Tiger Reserve is also a popular getaway for Hyderabadis. A diverse forest with rolling hills, deep valleys and gorges along the Krishna River, ATR is currently home to 20-24 resident tigers. Spread over 2,611.4 square kilometers in the Nagarkurnool and Nalgonda districts of Telangana, ATR was carved out of the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) after the bifurcation of unified Andhra Pradesh. Six cottages at the Mannanur Community Ecotourism Center (CBET) have been set up for guests and the two-day package which includes a jungle safari and a forest hike can accommodate 12 people per day.

Besides tigers, the forest area is home to over 100 leopards, sloth bears, spotted deer, sambar deer, dholes (Indian wild dogs), smooth-haired otters and four species of antelope, namely Nilgais, Chinkaras (Indian Gazella), Chausinga (four-horned antelope) and blackbucks. The forests of Nallamalla, being a trail of the Eastern Ghats, are also known for their endemic species of flora and fauna, said B Srinivas, chief forest curator.

Responding to a question on tourism versus conservation, Srinivas, who is also Project Tiger’s field director, Amrabad Tiger Reserve, said the visit is planned to only allow a limited number of visitors. . “This is why visitors are not allowed indiscriminately. Only a small group of visitors is allowed at a time, and they are not taken around the reserve but only to certain identified tourist sites. We have received a very encouraging response to the package. The slots are reserved until February, ”he said.

Forestry Division Manager (Amrabad Division) Rohith Gopidi said the tour, however, is not focused on tigers but aims to help understand and protect nature for the future. “We can generate income, create jobs for the locals, especially the primitive Chenchu ​​tribes, and also provide better forest monitoring and tracking. It is above all about making people aware of our precious resources and preserving them for the future, ”said Gopidi.

Tourists can book the “Tiger Stay Package”, which includes a forest trek, a jungle safari and a stay in CBET cabins, through the official ATR website. After checking in at the CBET center at noon, visitors are taken to the environmental education center laboratory, where SCAT and parasite analysis are performed on fecal samples from resident animals, to study feeding behaviors. predators and detect disease in them. Visitors are informed about the different species of animals living in the tiger reserve and the importance of laboratory operations.

Visitors can also visit the plastic recycling center. With a very busy highway crossing the reserve and too many travelers to be regulated, the forestry department has long faced the challenge of plastic waste. “We used premises to collect and separate pet bottles, multi-layered plastics and cardboard waste,” Gopidi said.

The sorted waste is then compressed into dense and compact bales using a machine before being sent for recycling. In the godown here, at least 3,500 kg of plastic balls are waiting to be taken away. “About 500 kg of plastic bales are generated each week and sometimes up to 2000 kg per week. People need to know the importance of scientific collection and disposal of plastic waste so that they stop littering forests, ”Gopidi added.

Before setting out for an evening jungle safari, visitors see exclusive videos about the flora and fauna of Amarabad. The approximately 50 km safari passes through areas near the central forest and ends at Farahabad viewpoint. For four hours, visitors are educated on the different types of host tree species along the way, facets of wildlife and more from tour guides from the local Chenchu ​​tribe. The department also organized a theatrical and cultural performance involving members of the local tribe in the evening. The next morning, visitors set off for a four-kilometer trek to Umamaheswaram Temple through the forest, where they can bird watch and take lessons on five different types of honey available in these areas. The package tour ends with a breathtaking view of the forest canopy from the top of the hill.

The package is priced at Rs 4,600 for a couple and excludes the cost of food and guide. There are plans to install a stargazing telescope at the CBET center. The authorities are also considering offering packages for a different type of experience at Domalapenta and Somasila, two other tourist attractions outside ATR.