Reopening forests: Jeep safaris, anyone?

TD Editor

Assam’s iconic Kaziranga National Park reopened today for tourists with all COVID-19 safety norms in place. The almost seven-month-long closure since March because of coronavirus lockdown and then the monsoon has been the longest in its 112-year history.

However, only jeep safaris are allowed as of now and a limited number of jeep safaris will be allowed at a time. The elephant safaris and other activities will start from 1 November.

Home to the rare one-horned rhinoceros and tigers, besides other wildlife, the Kaziranga Park was formally opened by Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal today morning. The CM said he hoped reopening the park would help revive Assam’s tourism sector and help unemployed youths in and around Kaziranga find meaningful employment.

He also called on the people to maintain all COVID-19 protocols in visiting the Kaziranga National Park and other such places of tourists interest amid the pandemic.

According to the park authorities, wearing masks, using hand sanitisers and maintaining social distance will be a must for all visitors. All tourists and guides would be subjected to thermal scanning, and health checks. Only the symptomatic would be allowed in. The safari jeeps and all other vehicles will also be sanitised after each trip.

For now, jeep safaris are only allowed to Kaziranga Range (Kohora) and Western Range (Bagori) because of inclement weather and road conditions, an official notice said.

“From 1 November, elephant safari will be started. Five new destinations have been opened for tourists with a mix of jeep safari, river tourism and trekking,” park director P Shivkumar said.

All of Assam’s five national parks and 18 wildlife sanctuaries were closed in March in view of the coronavirus outbreak. They remained closed in July because of the monsoon like they always do. However, unprecedented floods in the Brahmaputra basin submerged almost the entire Kaziranga Park, killing 100 animals, including the endangered one-horned rhinos.

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