|Gorumara National Park|
Jalpaiguri, March 26: The wildlife wing has for the first time decided to keep several reserve forests in Jalpaiguri shut for tourists for two days from tomorrow to prevent hunting by tribals during Holi.
Senior foresters said all bookings in the accommodation of the forest department had been cancelled for March 27 and 28.
“It is a common practice among the tribes to go hunting in groups on the day of Holi. There are instances when we have found that tribals have set fire to dry branches of trees. Seeing the fire, animals run out of the forests and fall prey (to the hunting parties). Bows and arrows are primarily used to hunt the animals,” said Sumita Ghatak, the divisional forest officer (wildlife-II).
“To prevent such hunting during the two days of Holi, we have decided to keep the forests closed so that our staff can carry out patrolling and keep a watch on the animals,” she added.
Earlier, the forests used to be kept out of bounds for tourists for only one day during Holi. According to Ghatak, the Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and Neora Valley National Park in the district would remain shut to tourists.
Buxa Tiger Reserve and Jaldapara forest will remain open for visitors but foresters said anti-poaching patrolling and announcements had started from this evening and would continue till March 28.
“The usual preys to tribal hunters are gaurs, deer, jungle fowl and rabbits. Our staff members have been instructed to carry out patrolling even on elephant backs so that the remote and core areas of the forests can be watched,” a forester said.
Senior foresters said in the past four-five years, meat and carcasses of several gaurs and deer had been seized from the forests and the nearby areas around Holi. “Many such seizures were made during or after Holi celebrations, which confirms that the trend of hunting is continuing even today,” said a forester.
He added the seizures were mainly reported from Malbazar, Metelli, Kalchini, Nagrakata and Birpara-Madarihat blocks of the district, which are tribal areas.
While Malbazar, Metelli and Nagrakata are close to Gorumara and Chapramari forests, Kalchini, Birpara and Madarihat are near Buxa and Jaldapara.
With the forest shutting down for two days, tour operators and owners of private resorts in areas like Lataguri, on the fringes of Gorumara, have prepared new itineraries for tourists who are flocking to the Dooars to spend the Holi break.
“A good number of tourists will start coming from tomorrow as Holi would be celebrated for two days, followed by Good Friday and the weekend till March 31,” said Kamal Bhowmik, the secretary of Lataguri Resort Owners’ Association. “We have changed the itineraries and will take the tourists to different areas in Kalimpong hills like Paron, Lava, Gorubathan, Jaldhaka and Bindu (on the two days). Visitors can also go to Samsing and Suntalekhola (near Gorumara).”
“We strongly advocate conservation and protection of wild animals and cannot compromise with their safety. The forest department has taken the decision to avert poaching and we support it,” Bhowmik added.