Barely 3 hours’ driving distance away from the bustling metropolis of Bangalore, lies a small town called Malavalli which has created quite a niche for itself in the area of responsible tourism. While the area and the larger Mandya district within which it lies, may not be able to compete with the nearby areas of Karnataka in terms of flora and fauna, it more than makes up for it through a highly innovative approach. The nearby areas of southern Karnataka including Kabini in Mysore district and Coorg are renowned worldwide for their rich and diverse forest cover. Some of Asia’s largest herds of elephants roam these lands along with tigers, leopards, deer, wild boar and varieties of birds. Mandya has little of those yet remains a fixture among all travelers going on wildlife pilgrimages to southern India. We will see how that has been executed and that too in a manner that can be termed as responsible tourism.

The Kaveririver though not perennial like the northern Indian snow fed rivers, has a special place in the state of Karnataka. Agriculture and human settlements are substantially dependent on her. The river criss-crosses the Mandya district and in fact reaches peak levels of water carrying capacity during the winter months when this part of the country receives significant rainfall. The giant Mahseer (Tor khudree) fish finds itself at home in these waters and has emerged as the star attraction for pulling people here. Wildlife enthusiasts and adventure sports freaks converge to this town of Malavalli for camping next to the Kaveri river in search of the Mahseer. The sport of angling or game fishing is especially popular. To facilitate the smooth conduct of these angling operations, the government of Karnataka undertaking- Jungle Lodges & Resorts (JLR- – has adopted a unique approach. This approach emerged out of a shortage of proper fishing guides as well as problems of poaching prevalent in this area.

In the year 1987, a precedent was set with the establishment of the Kaveri Wildlife Sanctuary. A substantial portion of this protected area was to lie within the borders of the Mandya district. Due to the Kaveri’s central role in the life of the district, fishing was a very important way of life. Fishermen had been plying their trade on these waters for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Now overnight due to the establishment of the sanctuary, thousands of families got uprooted and their livelihood was under threat of being wiped out. Resentment further grew due to the fact that fishermen who were plying their trade along the Kaveri outside the borders of the seemingly arbitrary confines of the wildlife sanctuary faced no such threat. Thus those living in the vicinity of the sanctuary felt trapped. This is when they resorted to poaching. In fact some of them were not poachers in the traditional sense but were simply fishing as they had been for generations, but overnight the tag of ‘poacher’ came to be associated with them. However, due to the stakes being so high, illegal fishing continued leading to even the other forms of poaching as these fishermen had complete information of the area and had now turned rebellious. This is where JLR and the government’s tourism wing came to the rescue of the forest as well as the people. JLR inducted these poachers into their training modules for fishing guides. These ‘poachers’ were all locals and thus had intimate knowledge of the forest, fishing and spotting of the mahseer. This induction and subsequent employment ensured they had regular government backed salaries. In addition, fishing guides made handsome returns in the form of tips from tourists. Foreigners flocked to this area in search of the mahseer and when these guides helped them spot these elusive creatures, tips of upward US$ 100 proved not uncommon.

Thus in this way, the government of Karnataka not only solved the problem of expert fishing guides’ shortage, they helped dozens of families re-establish their livelihoods wiped out due to a well-intentioned national government initiative. The example of JLR was then replicated across resorts in the fishing area. Number of private players joined in this initiative resulting in near absolute decrease in poaching incidents. 

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By- Aritro Dasgupta

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