Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'
Some tiger reserves allow private vehicles on safaris. Even though a forest department guide accompanies them, the drivers have no sensibilities on how to drive in a jungle and end up causing serious disturbance to wild animals.
Screeching tyres, engines revving noisily, exhausts spewing black smoke, horns blaring, cars cutting in front of each other, people shouting and even the odd bang or two. Sounds like normal urban India? Think again, this is a scene from a safari in the heart of a tiger reserve in Maharashtra!
Some tiger reserves allow private vehicles (albeit with a forest guide) for safaris. The drivers have no sensibilities on how to drive in a forest (we barely have any road sense even on city roads!) The net result is cacophony and chaos and serious disturbance to wild animals. The private vehicles drive how they will, putting animals in grave danger sometimes – they speed, cut other vehicles off, park dangerously close to the animals and invariably cause jams at places where there is a sighting.
And what of those sitting inside? They invariably scream and shout, throw litter in the forest and sometimes even get off the vehicle. All this could add up to potentially serious accidents in the forest and it also gives wildlife tourists a bad name in general.
And there is very little the guide or authorities can do to control this. The vehicles and drivers have no real incentive (or disincentive) to obey rules. They are mostly one-time visitors who can do as they please in the forest. And any attempt to discipline them leads to abuse at times, verbal and on occasion, physical.
The only solution to regulate this is to ban private vehicles altogether. That way, only registered forest vehicles can go for safaris, with drivers who are trained and familiar with the rules and ways of the forest. And the open gypsies can only take 6 people, so that controls tourist numbers. And the guide, with a designated seat has the ability to control the actions of his tourists.
Most importantly, a registered vehicle has a serious disincentive to break rules. The driver, guide and vehicle itself rely on the safaris for their income and are controlled by the forest department. So punishment can be imposed and it will hurt.
Also, as a by product, this also ensures that the income from the safaris comes into local hands and not into tourist taxi operators from far-away cities.