The spraying of endsosulfan in the cashew plantations of State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala caused a disaster on the biodiversity of the area, a study by the Dr. V. S. Vijayan of Salim Ali Foundation shows.
A quick survey by Dr. Vijayan and his team indicates that the pesticide hit the plants and animals of the area besides causing endless human sufferings. The area showed a decline in plant diversity between 40 and 70 per cent, particularly for native species, compared to the natural habitat. Fishes were the worst hit.
In general, the area, particularly those close to the forests were rich in wildlife, birds and butterflies as reported by the local communities. In Kallar area even elephants had been reported. In Rajapuram Estate where the plantation is contiguous with forests, elephants are present even now.
A traditional farmer reported that a large number of wildlife, including, Nilgiri langur, tiger, jackal, wild boar, jungle cat, mouse deer, mongoose, squirrels, flying fox, blacknaped hare, sparrow, parakeets, crows, frogs, honey bees, snails were present in the in Enmakaje panchayat. However, he said that “everything else, except the human beings, disappeared during the spray”.
Death of fishes, frogs, and snakes were noted in the very first year of the spray itself. Abnormalities and deformities were recorded in cattle. Animals such as jackal, porcupine, wild boar, civet cats, and bats, which were once common in the area, completely disappeared during the spray.
Dead snakes, squirrels, hares, peacocks, crows were found in the cashew plantations and adjacent areas during the period of spray. However, there are signs of their return during the last two to three years; that is, five to six years after stopping the aerial spray.
Honey bees which were abundant and were a source of income for most farmers, became almost completely absent during the period of spray. Butterflies abundant prior to the spray disappeared during the spray, although some of them appeared to be on the path of recovery, the study says.
Fishes that are common in streams of the region, it adds, are absent in streams running through areas where endosulfan was sprayed. Balitorine loaches, the true indicators of the hill stream habitat, is absent in many streams, and when present, their abundance is extremely low. Mesonemachilus triangularis and M. guentheri reported earlier could not be located in the survey.
Of the 18 species recorded from 12 streams covering sprayed areas of various panchayats, only two species have a wider distribution. The highly specialized, typical hill stream fishes of the southern Western Ghats such as Tor khudree, Garra mullya, Mesonemacheilus triangularis and Mesonemacheilus guentheri are extremely rare in the streams surveyed. It is also important to note that these species are highly sensitive to any change in the environment, the study says.
Of 20 species that reportedly constituted the regular catch of the fisher folk for commercial purpose prior to the aerial spray, only ten are present now. The fishers reported massive death of fishes during the spray. Some of the species had a discernible size difference between those collected currently from Kasaragod and those from elsewhere-- those from the rivers of Kasaragod are smaller.
Only two species of frogs, namely Rana verrucosa and Nyctybatrachus major were recorded by the team from the area. Species such as Micrixalus, and Rana temporalis adapted to the torrential streams were absent.
Most of the common birds such as crows, mynas, parakeets, drongos, and koel disappeared during the period of spray. It is reported that since crows were absent, certain communities felt incompleteness in performing their religious rites after deaths.
Major species of birds missing in the plantations were flycatchers, babblers, and endemics such as small sunbird, crimson-throated barbet, and white-bellied tree pie. Common birds absent in the plantations were, fairy bluebird, large cuckoo shrike, and large wood shrike.