Eco-tourism in Kerala, managed by forest department, has found huge takers and their popularity is likely to rise further in the coming years. The department generated an income of Rs. 137.31 crore through ticket sales from eco-tourism activities conducted by various wildlife divisions in 2017-18. There are 60 such sites in Kerala.
The scenic Athirappilly waterfall, known as Niagara of India, generated Rs. 47.77 crore followed by Parambikulam division which generated a sum of Rs. 29.41 crore. The eco-tourism spots did see a huge number of visitors with 12.68 lakh visitors in the same period, as many as 24,537 foreigners 42,032 students visited these spots.
Of Kerala’s total geographical area of 38,863 sq km, 29.65% is forest area, which is around 11,521.81 sq km. A major portion of this includes six national parks, 17 wildlife sanctuaries and one community reserve. Kerala has a wealthy wildlife population with the tiger population alone increasing by 73 to 190 in the past 35 years, said the latest forest data available with the department. The elephant population increased from 4,286 to 5,706 in the past 14 years, pointing to the fact that the core forest area is more or less intact. The population of Nilgiri Thar, which lives in the mountain landscapes of southern Western Ghats, has increased from 743 to 1,420 from 2008-16.
The 400 forest protection committees and 190 eco-development committees (EDC) play a huge role in promoting the programmes of Periyar and Parambikulam tiger reserves. They have ensured inclusivity by employing tribesmen in the area as watchers, guides and guards.
Forest revenue generated in 2017-18 was Rs. 245.42 crore while the set target was Rs. 341.32 crore. The total expenditure in 2017-18 was Rs. 587.15 crore. Forests contribute substantially to the non-tax revenue of Kerala in the form of sales mainly that of timber and other forest produce.