Assam government’s plan to promote ‘helicopter tourism’ to Kaziranga National Park & Tiger Reserve is likely to witness strong opposition from conservationists and wildlife lovers.

Assam government on Thursday decided to set up two helipads at the periphery of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve to promote tourism.

Though the exact locations of the two helipads were not specified, it was mentioned that one will be in Nagaon district, while the other one will be in Golaghat district.

Mubina Akhtar, secretary of Kaziranga Wildlife Society told Northeast Now that it is suicidal to promote helicopter-tourism around the wild habitat, which to home to rich and endangered flora and fauna.

“We have come to know that chief minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma flew over Kaziranga in a helicopter today,” Akhtar said, adding, “It is unfortunate.”

A video of the helicopter journey shared by the chief minister on social media platforms showed that a large group of wild animals, including wild buffalos ran helter-skelter inside the Kaziranga National Park because of the high decibel sound of the flying helicopter.

From the video, it was apparent that the helicopter was flying at a height of 400 to 500 feet above the ground level, and caught the wild animals unpredictably nervous.

According to reports, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had boarded the helicopter from a playground near the Geleki ME School, close to the eastern Agaratoli Range of Kaziranga National Park.

In addition to the video shared by the chief minister, his wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sharma also was onboard the helicopter, and had shared some beautiful photos taken from the top on her social media handles.

In addition to the ‘fear-factor’ of the wild animals, Mubina Akhtar said the habitat, in the process, got completely exposed from the top, and perpetrators, especially the poachers, will now use the footage to meticulously plan poaching.

Helicopters hovering around the Kaziranga National Park would also mean blocking the unmarked flyways of the migratory birds.

Almost 478 species of birds (both migratory and resident) have been spotted at the Kaziranga National Park is home to, including 25 globally threatened and 21 near threatened species.

The wild habitat is also identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International for the conservation of the avifaunal species.

Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had visited the UNESCO World Heritage site on Thursday for a coordination meeting and had assessed the preparedness for flood management mechanism for the forthcoming monsoon season.

Senior officials from five districts — Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath, Karbi Anglong and Golaghat were present at the coordination meeting.

While Mubina Akhtar spoke on record, several other wildlife conservationists, who refused to be quoted, said, as per a Supreme Court order (dated July 24, 2012), helicopter flying over tiger reserves is banned across India.

Flying of helicopters is banned over tiger areas and even the buffer zones.

“It (the helicopter flight) has sets a bad precedent for others to follow,” a wildlife activist said, adding that helicopter causes too much noise.

Even ordinary drone which is used for monitoring purpose produces noise and animals get disturbed. “Then think about the high decibel noise the helicopter produces,” the activist said.

The wildlife activists were of the opinion that ecological research has proved that sound pollution can cause stress in wild animals and affects their overall fitness.

“Therefore, it is highly objectionable that an activity having potential negative impact on wildlife be promoted so that rich and powerful can have a joy ride over Kaziranga,” one of them said.

They also claimed that as per guidelines of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a core area of tiger reserve is supposed to remain inviolate and disturbance free.

“And, flying the helicopter by the chief minister is in violation of Government of India guidelines,” they said, adding that the proposal to set up helipads to promote tourism is against the basic tenets of eco-tourism and the guidelines formulated in this regard.

They said eco-tourism is supposed to benefit the local communities, and promotion of helicopter tourism will only benefit the high-end resorts and capitalists.

Moreover, helicopter-tourism has not been allowed around any tiger reserve anywhere in India, and Assam should not try such mis-adventure, they said.

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