Once the exclusive Hunting Reserve of the Wadiyar dynasty, Nagarhole National Park is setting a shining example of how sustainability efforts can improve not only the ecosystem, but the local communities, economy, and tourism as well. With the help of conservation programs and tourism companies such as Evolve Back, Nagarhole is a thriving, natural region again and at this rate, it will only get better.
Located to the north-west of Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park covers 643 square kilometers and is home to a vast array of wildlife including tigers, elephants and leopards, the highly prized sandalwood and teak trees, as well as many local tribes and indigenous communities called Kurubas. Nagarhole was deemed a wildlife sanctuary in 1955 and moved up to a national park in 1988, then, in 1999 it was declared a tiger reserve as well.
In the early 2000s, over-hunting and poaching were the leading threats to the local wildlife in Nagarhole and other nearby parks, including the careless poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks. Also around this time was a peak in the most recent threat to the area’s ecosystem, the overharvesting of sandalwood and teak trees. Large-scale cutting shrinks the habitat causing a major disturbance to the local wildlife. To make matters worse, due to the increase in nearby commercialization and the relocation of many tribal families, some of these tribal communities gave up their traditional ways and began looking for new ways to support their families. One unfortunate income option the locals found was being paid by poachers to serve as guides and trackers in the forest, which clearly wasn’t healthy for either the communities or the forest.
Nagarhole National Park now forms a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which is one of the last standing and more protected habitats for the regions endangered species such as the elephant and tiger. It is a major focal point of conservation in Karnataka under Project Tiger and Project Elephant. The area is also attributed with having a high-density tiger population due to the lush thickness of the forest providing cover, the widespread accessibility to water from streams and small lakes as well as the river, and a very high population of small to medium mammals for the predatory tigers to hunt.
One outstanding example of a tourism company that is truly operating with the local community in mind is Evolve Back. Evolve Back is a luxury retreat located on the Kabini river that is using tourism to help the area’s flora regrow and wildlife repopulate all while empowering the local community. Using measures such as only planting local trees and plants, restoring previous farming areas to wild, naturally growing swaths of land, and using only organic manure on the property, the local environment is returning its original rich and diverse state. By using clean energy techniques and some cutting-edge technology they are not only supporting but sustaining and improving the environment. Some of the simpler methods include onsite water treatment, a local piggery to manage food waste, enclosures around machinery to minimize noise pollution, usage of lights optimized to minimize disturbance to nocturnal wildlife, wind-powered generators, and only using electric buggies inside the resort, furthering the local ecosystems regrowth. Lastly, Evolve Back financially supports the anti-poaching camp and provides employment opportunities to locals, giving the indigenous tribes new ways to support their family, while still respecting the forest.
Today, it is imperative that we support the many companies in the tourism industry whose goal is to improve and empower the local peoples, traditions and ways of life, rather than modernize, impede or interrupt. Make sure you do your research on the lodgings you choose when visiting places such as the breathtaking Nagarhole National Park, with its abundance of culture, wildlife and natural beauty. Choosing companies that are directly involved in supporting the local communities, and not just financially, will ensure that the generations to come will be able to experience the rich cultures and natural wonders of the world as they are meant to be.