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Periyar tiger reserve - Can tribal villages live in harmony with nature and play a crucial role?

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As I started my half-day trekking and bamboo rafting tour in Periyar tiger reserve in February 2015, I reflected that finally the park authorities were starting to get the right balance, between 'mixed' low impact tourism activities which support the local tribal people still living inside the park or within the buffer areas.

What was striking during my month long recce trip in South India during February 2015, was how different the policy was towards local tribal populations. In the north and central regions of India it has all been about wholesale relocations and compensation packages to the affected villages; not all of which have gone smoothly. Whereas in the south, as I enjoyed wildlife safaris in parks such as Parambikulam and Periyar, it was striking to see significant sized villages – such as Bison Village – remaining inside the park; why the difference?

As well as being allow to remain in the park and harvest seasonal products, such as elephant grass, medicinal plants and fish. Some of the tribal men and women have become park guards. This is music to our ears and something we have called for, as passionate wildlife followers for many years; to see it finally coming to fruition and for it hopefully to be used as a role model for other parks is really encouraging.

If tribal communities feel involved in not only tiger conservation but fundamentally the protection of the forest and water resources which they rely on, it will be much more difficult for destructive outside forces to enter the park, for illegal activities such as poaching, tree cutting and mining. The benefit to the visitor is walking with guides who can smell the presence of elephants (a significant danger on a walking safari) from miles way and ensure your safety. Everyone benefits and that is the Holy Grail of community centred wildlife conservation; a principle that we at Wildlife Trails support with all our heart.

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