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No longer poachers they are

K. Raju



NEW VOCATION: A reformed poacher ready to guide tourists.

THENI: Thanks to a rehabilitation package, hardcore poachers at Gudalur in Theni district have now become guides to tourists visiting the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Thekkadi.

Rampant poaching used to take a heavy toll on tuskers and bisons in the forests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala every year and met a high demand for bison meat in Kerala.

When anti-poaching camps and some stern proved vain, personnel of the PTR and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department met the poachers to persuade them out of the trade.

According to S. Jayachandran, joint-secretary, Tamil Nadu Green Movement, a meeting was convened six years ago at Vannathiparai in Gudalur range with the support of Green Media Trust and Environment, and Consumer Protection Centre, Cumbum. People from Gudalur and Varushanadu, including 19 poachers, took part. Poverty and unemployment were found major social problems for the poachers. However, the TNGM's efforts to provide employment to them in textile mills failed.

Eleven months ago, the PTR drew up a plan and formed the `Vidiyal Vana Padhukappu Sangam' in Gudalur comprising 23 poachers as members and registered it with Periyar Foundation, an eco-development project under the `Project Tiger' scheme.

Meanwhile, the Kerala Forest Department withdrew all cases pending against the poachers.

Moreover, an eco-tourism concept — Bullock Cart Discovery— was introduced and an aesthetically decorated cart with nine seats and two bullocks were donated to them.

Personnel of the PTR and Kerala hoteliers drop Tekkadi tourists near Lower Camp for the bullock-cart ride every day. From there, the Sangam members take tourists in the Cumbum Valley. To facilitate an additional income, the PTR has donated them coracles (parisal) to start river rafting and attract more tourists. Besides, women in poachers' families have been trained in coir mat-weaving.

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