Taken for a ‘big ride’ at SGNP

Posted: May 15, 2011 in Wildlife preservation
Tags: , , , ,

The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a cruel joke perpetrated on the visitors in the name of environmental and wildlife preservation. We went there last Saturday, and were shocked by the complete apathy of the authorities towards showcasing whatever wildlife is in there. Apart from the fact that we managed to spot one white tiger in the open, a lion sleeping behind a bush, and a few deer, we didn’t spot anything else and nor were the officials there too interested in showing us.

They have one enclosure for the white tiger and another for a lion, which visitors are taken past in a riot-control bus. The bus stops for a few minutes, during which time, visitors are told to take pictures through grills. You can well imagine what kind of pictures one can take through a grill in two minutes! Then we are abruptly driven out of there. End of safari in a priceless 20 minutes. The point is, if the humans are kept away from the animals by a fence, and if there is more wildlife to admire, why not have open 4WD or Canters to take visitors around for a longer time, and charge more? What stops the authorities from making the whole experience more enjoyable?

This was like a trip to the neighbourhood grocer to buy provisions! To me it looks more like a 9-to-5 job, where the workers seem more intent in getting the job done than showing any really enthusiasm for it. In a place like this, only those workers who love animals should be sent – not those who consider this an endurance test. The people at SGNP should learn from their counterparts at Ranthambore and Gir on how to arrange a safari.

At both these places one travelled in open jeeps or Canters, and got the opportunity, not just to view the animals at close range but also photograph and videograph them. In Gir, we were so close to the lionesses and their cubs, that we could almost touch them. By now we all know that animals attack only in self-defence, and that was obvious at both these wildlife sanctuaries because we were up, close and personal with the magnificent beasts and they looked at with a kind of disdain, that humans reserve for their fellow beings. We paid Rs 500 per head at both places for a three-hour safari, but were warned that there was absolutely no guarantee that we would be able to see either tigers or lions. The point is, real nature lovers, who love to see animals in their natural habitat would not have a problem paying more. And if they didn’t spot any, they wouldn’t mind, because they understood that there was no guarantee of that.

The guards spent hours tracking pugmarks and droppings to track the animals so we could get a glimpse of the elusive tigers and lions. Spotting deer and peacocks were quite common but to spot the ‘dadas’ of the jungle lolling around was the icing on the cake. They gave us the real jungle experience. At one point as we waited for lionesses to show up from somewhere, they were sitting right behind our Gypsy in some thick foliage. They emerged with their cubs only when they realised that we meant no harm.

At Ranthambore, I remember a tourist, sitting in the Canter with us, saying that it was the first time in 13 attempts that he had spotted a tiger – and that too just 15 metres away. The next day he made another trip to see the magnificent animal with us, because he thought we were lucky for him! He spotted one again, although from quite a distance! The guy thought he had been blessed and thanked us repeatedly! There are countless others like him who love the environment and the wild, and would have no regrets if after two hours in the SGNP they spotted a few deer and maybe an odd lion – or none at all. For them it’s the experience that matters and not the cost.

All credit to the government for not succumbing to the powerful builders lobby and maintaining such a wonderful ‘natural’ habitat in the midst of a concrete jungle called Mumbai. Whether the SGNP has more than the odd lion and tiger and if so, would the government be interested in popularising, is something for them to decide. While our safaris may not be comparable to the ones in Africa, can the authorities at SGNP at least ensure we don’t leave the place feeling cheated?

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