Eco Tourism for Conservation
In the past 10 years it has been noticed that an increased Eco tourism activity has resulted in better protection in many forests of Vidarbha. There are positive changes in the form of reduced shikar, lesser forest fires and reduced grazing pressures. The local communities have seen tangible benefits of Eco tourism. The most evident being the fact that the antagonism with the Forest Department has eased significantly.
The Forest Department is working with village level working groups called Village Eco Development Committees (VEDCs) in the buffer villages.
Conflicts with wildlife often occurred due to the regular visits that people made into the forests, to collect firewood and to defecate. Schemes were drawn to finance and provide toilets and LPG connections in every home.
VEDCs’ path breaking move was to develop economic means for the locals through non-extractive occupations. They started with eco tourism. Eco tourism not only created jobs for the locals, but also promoted traditional practices.
With time, it was observed that the local youth, that took up the eco tourism jobs of guiding and driving safari vehicles, developed a strong sense of ownership over these forests. Sand mining, illegal shikar, cattle grazing and forest fires reduced.
This transformation has surprisingly made many of the outside villages to approach the State Government with a request to be included into the Buffer area.