The forest minister said talks are also in progress on RV facilities and luxury campgrounds in Surla and Nanoda
PANAJI: The state forest agency has embarked on an ambitious 10-year plan to transform the forests of Goa – part of the internationally recognized Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot – into a safari destination.
From luxury tents and wildlife excursions to deep-sea expeditions and turtle nesting tours, the Forest Service has developed several strategies to open up the state’s rich wildlife refuges and biodiversity to locals and tourists alike.
“I want to develop safaris,” Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane said. “You can’t have animals in a cage for that. You need an ecosystem, and that’s not a year or two job. It has to start now and you can start to see results in the next ten years.”
Rane outlined his plan after chairing a meeting with the department and said priority areas have been identified to establish ecotourism activities in – Cotigao, Galgibaga, Netravali, Molcornem, Surla and Chorla.
The state has three nature reserves, but most of them are off-limits and off-limits to nature lovers. The state also has four turtle sanctuaries and nesting sites at Morjim and Mandrem in Pernem, and Agonda and Galgibaga in Canacona. Rane wants to increase this while introducing guided tours for students and tourists.
Also under consideration is a 120 km trail linking Cotigao Conservation Area, Netravali Forests, Bhagwan Mahavir Conservation Area and Mhadei Conservation Area with Chorla Ghat. Recreational vehicle or RV facilities and luxury tented campgrounds in Surla and Nanoda will also be discussed, said Rane, who is interested in wildlife photography.
The state government has brought on board former chief conservator of forests Vinay Luthra as an advisor. Rane met with Luthra, Rajiv Kumar Gupta, the Chief Forest Conservator in Goa, and Santosh Kumar, the other Chief Forest Conservator and Chief Game Warden, to prepare the roadmap.
“We have hired Luthra as an advisor to the Forestry Secretary and at the same time he will play a role in the GFDC to see how we can increase activities in the wildlife sanctuaries. At the same time, we will create a forest development and forest management plan in Goa,” said Rane.
While wildlife safaris are at least 10 years away, the department’s short-term intentions are to establish campgrounds, kayaking, biking and hiking trails, beginning with Cotigao. These plans coincide with the state government’s push towards hinterland tourism. The minister said the department can develop two campsites immediately by spending Rs 2-3 crore in Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Cotigao, while a similar campsite will be set up in Nanoda via PPP route.
Aware there will be resistance, Rane said the department will engage local people, particularly by training local youth to be leaders. Among other plans, the Forest Service hopes to enhance Bondla Zoo and create natural wildlife habitats and bird watching spots.
“There is no law that says people are not allowed to enter forests. We want to make it very friendly. We want to have a proactive approach so Goans don’t have to go far. You can go to a wildlife park, hike or trail on a Saturday or Sunday,” Rane said.
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