The road to freedom and speed limits
We live near the Masinagudi – Ooty road, coming from Mysore. It is a small road because it crosses protected areas. However, getting out of the jungle on the road, is being caught in a worse type of jungle. During the week, the first vehicle you are likely to encounter is a jeep taxi rushing madly, honking all the way, carrying people who are probably not in a hurry. Your next vehicle will a “vegetable express”, a small truck whose mission in life seems to be providing the Ooty market with unripe material: the speed at which they go prevents any cabbage from reaching maturity. During the weekend, you will meet medium sized buses and SUVs. Which is the most dangerous is difficult to say. Small buses are dangerous by nature because the tourists (who are probably not in a hurry either), need to be offloaded in Ooty for reasons that have been forgotten long ago. Lately, I found that the Toyota Fortuner drivers were particularly bad because, like elephant or tiger experts, they seem to think that the qualities of their pet toy -big, fast, powerful- are transferred to them. They take up the middle of the road, to be skillfully avoided by civilized people.
In spite of the attractive notice boards of the Forest Department: NO parking, NO cooking, NO photography, NO feeding animals, people do just the opposite. Each time we travel to Masinagudi (8 km away), we see a violation of some rules. The speed limit, scantly indicated, is 40 km per hour, to avoid road kills. In an area where tigers seem to be recovering from extinction, no driver is aware that, beyond the speed limit, he can kill a tiger crossing the road. Over speeding is so common that I came to believe that we own the slowest vehicle in the region. People also park their vehicles to picnic the jungle, preferably in front of the NO boards. They leave their trash behind, tease animals and risk their lives. With the present violation of laws, the respective departments can easily earn Rs 1,00,000 per month in fines between Masinagudi and Ooty.
Why being repressive when people need a little bit of freedom (and pay taxes to enjoy the reserves)? With dangerous and at the same time fragile wildlife, there is nothing much to do but apply the law (it is not right now). This brings us to the other part of the question that we must ask as conservation biologists: where are the lucrative infrastructures, activities and locations where people can have a little bit of freedom and fun without creating problems for the environment?