Two critically endangered trees of Kerala will be pulled back from the brink of extinction if efforts to reintroduce them in the wild fructify.
Karanjali (Dipterocarpus bourdillonii) and Adimundan (Humboldtia bourdillonii) are endemic to the Western Ghats.
If the reintroduction is successful, their saplings will grow in protected areas and the trees will be re-categorised in the Red Data Book of the IUCN. Now, they are on the critically endangered list.
Scientists of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, Thrissur, are making the effort under a species recovery programme.
Nearly 1,300 Adimundan trees grow in the wild, in patches of inaccessible terrains of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The total area will add up to 2 sq.km.
Worse is the case of Karanjali, with just 180 trees found near the Triveni Sangamam in Sabarimala and Urulanthanny, near Pooyamkutty, says K. Swarupanandan, project coordinator. They are found within 100 metres from the courses of rivers. Earlier, they were used for making plywood and human intervention proved costly, Dr. Swarupanandan says.
One of the major reasons for the limited number of Karanjali is the lack of mature fertile embryos in the fruits, says E.P. Indira, scientist at the institute. The live embryos fail to mature owing to inherent reproductive barriers, such as self-incompatibility. Only 3 per cent of the seeds grow to saplings.
The trees grow to a height of 40 to 45 metres with straight trunks. The researchers have succeeded in generating 400 seedlings. The translocation will begin once 1,000 saplings are ready, scientists say.
The team of researchers working on the project includes E.M. Muralidharan and R.C. Pandalai of the institute.
The institute plans to take up species recovery programmes for more critically endangered species, says K.V. Sankaran, Director. A few research proposals have been submitted for approval.
Ideally, the trees should be translocated in a protected area where the risk from human intervention is minimal. Areas with sufficient canopy openings will be best suited. Karanjali saplings will have to be planted within 100 metres from rivulets, Dr. Sankaran says.
Researchers plan to evaluate the post-translocation survival and growth of the planted stocks.