BENGAL TOURISM: Jumbo count to hit tour plans – a bag full of excuses, always this and that ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, Sept. 7: Tourists planning to visit the forests of north Bengal during Durga Puja may have to change their itineraries as elephant census scheduled to be held in the last week of this month has been postponed to October end.
The decision to defer the census has thrown a spanner in tourism stakeholders’ plans as forest lodges and bungalows in the Dooars have already been booked for a month from the middle of October.
“Earlier, we had decided that elephant census in north Bengal forests would be held from September 27 to 29 and accordingly, preparations were in progress. However, we had to give a second thought to the decision as the monsoon was getting prolonged in the region,” said S.B. Patel, the chief conservator of forests (wildlife), north Bengal. “It has been decided now that the census will be conducted during the end of October as we expect that the rainy season will be over by then.”
The elephant count is conducted once in two years and the last exercise was held in April 2008. The foresters had counted 350-400 elephants in north Bengal during the last census.
According to Patel, tracing wild elephants is always a tricky job, as they prefer to stay in core areas. “Added to that, green cover increases during the monsoon, making it difficult for our teams to spot elephants. It is tough to count elephants during rains,” he said.
Patel said the forest department was yet to fix dates for the census, but it would be held after Durga Puja. “Although I am yet to receive any further instruction on the matter from my higher-ups, the census is likely to take place at the end of next month,” he said.
Sumita Ghatak, the divisional forest officer (wildlife II), said tourists would not be allowed to stay in the department’s lodges during the elephant census. “As a rule, we will not provide bookings in any of our properties during census days. Besides, visitors won’t be allowed to enter the forests as their presence can affect the census,” she said.
The census will be conducted in Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and all other reserve forests lying on the elephant corridor stretching from Mechi on the Indo-Nepal border to Sankosh on the Bengal-Assam boundary.
Resort owners in the Dooars, who have been expecting a brisk business during pujas, are keeping their fingers crossed.
“We had come to know earlier that the forests would remain closed at September end. But we were not much bothered about the closure as the puja season begins in the first week of October and continues till mid-November,” said Kamal Bhowmik, the secretary of the Lataguri Resort Owners’ Association.
“But now that the forest department has decided to postpone the census to October end, tourism will be hit hard in the Dooars. We are receiving bookings on a large scale and all of them have to be cancelled now. This is one of the best business seasons for us and earnings of thousands will be affected,” said Bhowmik.