Eco-tourism destinations set to woo back visitors

For months, the top eco-tourism destinations and wild life reserves were out of bound for nature enthusiasts. However, visitors can soon enjoy sojourns to fragile, peaceful and relatively untouched natural areas in the south Indian state of Kerala, known as the God’s Own Country, and behold the rich flora and fauna in their natural habitats.

The Eravikulam National Park and the Periyar Tiger Reserve are all hoping to receive visitors from early next month. Tourists, though, will have to adhere to strict safety measures including health check-ups and physical distancing norms in the wake of the Covid-19 threat.

“The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) have already given us the go-ahead and issued guidelines for allowing visitors. We target to open the reserve for eco-tourism activities at the earliest, say by July one, when we hope to receive the state’s nod too,” said Eravikulam National Park Assistant Forest Warden Job J Neriamparambil.

Perched at 7000 ft above sea level, the grassland eco-system, 15 kms away from Munnar in Devikulam Taluk, is famous for sighting of Nilgiri Tahr (highly endangered mountain goat) and ‘Neelakurinji’, the flower that blooms once in 12 years. It’s home to 48 species of mammals, 133 species of birds, 101 species of butterflies and 21 species of amphibians.

“There are 733 Nilgiri Tahrs, including 238 new arrivals, as per the last census (2019-20). The long closure has led to issues like payment of wages to staff. A total of 147 watchers alone have been employed in the park. We’ll be adhering to all safety measures as prescribed by the Centre and the state,” the officer said. The state houses nearly 60 eco-tourism destinations, employing over 5000 persons. The sudden dip in revenue due to closure of the centres following lock down has affected their wage payments.

As per the guidelines of the MoEFCC, all eco-tourists, drivers and guides should be subjected to temperature checks at entry points. The officials should ensure that all wear masks and face-shields and that every vehicle (deployed inside the park) is provided with sanitisers. Also, seating capacity in the vehicles should be reduced by 50 per cent to ensure social distancing. However, persons below 10 years and above 65 years shall not be permitted entry.

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