Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel, to natural areas, that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (The International Ecotourism Society, 2015). Education is meant to include, both, staff and guests.
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. Those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism are required to adopt the following principles:
Minimize physical, social, behavioural and psychological impact
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry
Deliver memorable experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climate
Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities
Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people in your community, and work in partnership with them to create empowerment
This approach plays a vital part in educating travellers about the problems faced by these environments, thus helping to protect it from man as well as climate change.
ECOTOURISM IN GOA
Goa is slowly emerging as an ecotourism destination, thanks to the rich biodiversity and wildlife in the interior and Ghats in the state, and tourists can also opt to explore the backwaters and mangroves.
The Western Ghats, with its high rainfall, are a haven for many species of birds and animals, and provide a corridor for migration, too. Called the Sahyadris in Goa, they extend for a stretch of 600 km in Goa. The coastal areas, on the other hand, provide the tropical backdrop. Several plants are unique to Goa, and some were introduced by the Portuguese, the most famous being green chilies, which are an essential ingredient in Indian cuisine, today.
Goa is home to over 1,512 documented species of plants, more than 275 genera of birds, over 48 genera of animals and over 60 genera of reptiles, and approx 10% of the state has been set aside as a wildlife reserve.
In order to boost ecotourism in the state, the government has set up the following wildlife sanctuaries, where visitors get a chance to explore nature.
1. DR SALIM ALI BIRD SANCTUARY
It is located on the western tip of Chorao island, along the River Mandovi. Mangroves cover this bird-watchers’ paradise, named after India’s best-known ornithologist. This is Goa’s only bird sanctuary, and covers an area of 1.8 sqkm. A variety of local and migratory birds can be found here, as well as winter visitors, like coots and pintails. Apart from a variety of coastal birds, flying foxes, jackals and crocodiles can often be spotted, too.
The mangrove vegetation is a breeding ground for a variety of fish and insects, which fall at the base of the food chain. The “Mangrove Scrub” vegetation found here occurs in small isolated patches along the banks of the Mandovi and Mapusa rivers, and also along the Cumbarjua canal. A watch-tower affords better viewing of birds.
2. BONDLA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
At just 8 km in size, the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is the smallest wildlife sanctuary in Goa and is located 38 km from Margao, and 50 km from Panjim. It is more like a jungle resort, and its mini zoo, sprawling deer park, botanical and rose gardens attract not just nature lovers, but school children, too. Eco cottages, run by the Forest Department, are also found here.
The gaur and sambhar deer are the common animals inhabiting this sanctuary, which is located among the hills at the junction of three talukas ie Ponda, Sanguem and Sattari.
Bondla is covered with moist deciduous forests, with small patches of evergreens. The State Tree, Terminalia crenulata (Matti) and Rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo) are common here. Others include Lagerstroemia (Nano), Kindall, Jamba, Mimusops, Saraca indica. Thorny bamboo Bambusa arundinacea and Giant Lianas (Entada) are aplenty.
Gaur, the state animal, is often seen, as are panthers, leopards, deer, wild boar, porcupine, anteater, flying lizard (draco) and Malabar giant squirrel. Over a hundred species of birds, including the State Bird (Ruby Throated Yellow Bulbul), Common Grey Hornbill, Golden Backed Woodpecker are regulars in the garden.
3. COTIGAO WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Multi-storeyed forests with tall trees and rare plants, where hardly any light reaches the ground, is what Cotigao Sanctuary is all about. It is located in Canacona taluka, on the Karnataka border, and several gaurs enter Cotigao from its neighbourhood. The Forest Department runs a two-bedded suite at Poinguinim, 2 km away from the sanctuary.
Vegetation is mostly moist-deciduous, interspersed with semi-evergreen and evergreen patches. With its dense forests and perennial streams, it occupies an area of 86 sqkm.
Visitors can spot monkeys, wild boar and gaur. There is also a 25 m high treetop watchtower, overlooking a waterhole that attracts a handful of animals around dawn and dusk.
4. BHAGWAN MAHAVIR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Located in Mollem, 53 km from Panjim, this sanctuary covers an area of 240 sqkm with thick forest-clad slopes of the Western Ghats. It is the largest of Goa’s protected wildlife areas, and contains the Mollem National Park. Some of the animals sheltered in the sanctuary include the gaur, sambar, leopards, spotted deer, slender tories, jungle cats, Malayan giant squirrels, pythons and cobras.
The sanctuary is particularly known for leopards, elephants, deer and gaur (Indian Bison), which can be viewed from the Devil’s Canyon View Point. The famous temple of Tambdi Surla is situated 13 km from here.
The Directorate of Tourism runs cottages and dormitories, while there is a police outpost at the gate of the sanctuary. An observation platform a few kilometers into the park is best suited to see wildlife, especially in the early morning or late evening.