Rich flora and fauna do Coimbatore proud while conflicts cause concern, writes V.S. PALANIAPPAN

Unlike many of the other districts in State, Coimbatore is blessed with rich bio-diversity, thanks to its location abutting the Western Ghats.

The salubrious climate is making people prefer settling down in Coimbatore for employment or business or for a post-retired life.

Coimbatore and its contiguous areas near Western Ghats are a treasure trove for nature enthusiasts as this region boasts of rich flora and fauna.

The Coimbatore Forest Division forms a continuous, longitudinal and compact block lying in the north western sector of the Coimbatore district. Nature has bestowed the district and its adjoining areas with a rich forest wealth in terms of the Nilgiris Bio-sphere having the world's most sought-after locales. Some of the places such as Western Catchment, Upper Bhavani and Mukurti continue to attract nature lovers for an experience that one cannot afford to miss in a lifetime.

Anaimalai Tiger Reserve has its share of nature at its pristine glory and Grass Hills in Valparai is considered the Switzerland of India.

Talking to The Hindu, Divisional Forest Officer V. Thirunavukkarasu categorises the segments of the forest based on geographical variance such as the Nilgiri Slopes Reserve Forests, Plain Forests around Mettupalayam, Velliangadu Valley, Naickenpalayam Valley, Thadagam Valley, Booluvampatti Valley and Walayar Valley.

In terms of bio-diversity, this division, which is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, has many endangered fauna - 20 mammals, 189 birds, 108 butterflies, 59 reptiles and 68 orchid species.

The division has southern thorn forests, southern dry mixed deciduous forests, phoenix savannah, the west coast semi-evergreen forests, west coast tropical evergreen forests.

Plants

Boswella serrata – Kungilliam, Cinnamomum zeylanicum – Lavangam, Dalbergia latifolia – Itti, Tectona grandis – Thekku, Garcinia cambogia – Kodampuli, Schleichera oleosa – Poovathi, Chloroxylon swietenia – Porasu, Canarium striatum – Karukungilium, Cullenia rosayraona - Vedipila

Orchids

There are 68 species of orchids belonging to 18 genera found in this division. One of the orchids, the Proteroceros holttumii, is strictly endemic to Velliangiri Hills of Coimbatore division.

Mammals

Important mammal species are Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), panther (Panthera pardus), gaur (Bos gaurus), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), spotted deer (Axis axis), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), mouse deer (Tragulus meminna), wild boar (Sus scrofa), Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica), wild dog or Dhole (Cuon alpinus).

Birds

The records indicate that the endemic birds of the region are as follows: out of the 16 endemics of the Western Ghats, nine have been recorded during the survey. They are The Black and Orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Small Sunbird, White bellied Treepie, Grey headed Bulbul, Blue winged Parakeet, White bellied Blue Flycatcher, Rufous Babbler and Nilgiri Wood Pigeon. The Blue winged Parakeet is the dominant endemic species and the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon rare.

Butterflies

Important butterfly species are Common Jezebel, Pea Blue, Angled Caster, Lemon Pansy, Yellow Orange tip, Choclate Pansy, Common Grass yellow, Blue Pansy, Yellow Pansy, Common Banded Peacock, Common Emigrant, Common Rose, Mottled Emigrant, Tawny Coster and Crimson Rose

Reptiles

The reptile species endemic to Western Ghats such as Calotes ellioti (Elliots Forest Colotes), Cnemaspis anaikattiensis (Anaikatty day gecko), Ristella sp (Cat skink) and Lycodon flavicollis (Yellow collared wolf snake).

Tourism

To quench the entertainment thirst of Coimbatoreans, who are left with cinemas and VOC Park, the department embarked on a project to offer quality and educative tourism. It initiated Eco-Tourism with the special objective to provide conservation education to the public and socio-economic status to the tribals through revenue generation.

Some of the projects are Baralikkadu – Poochimarathur Jungle Eco-Tourism (BJET) at Baralikkadu in Karamadai Range and Kovai Courttallam waterfall Eco-Tourism in Bolampatty Range.

However, according to K. Kalidasan, OSAI president, rampant urbanisation and unchecked utilisation of resources along the reserve forest boundary have resulted in frequent man-animal conflicts. Encroachment along the reserve forest in the past had resulted in the fragmentation of elephant corridors. Disturbance in the corridor resulted in pachyderms straying into human habitations. Cropping pattern especially crops such as maize, sugarcane and banana along the forest boundary aggravated the problem, he said.

Deterioration in habitats is being addressed and habitat improvement programmes happen on a continuous basis. Coimbatore happens to be the Elephant Reserve Number 8 with the elephant density 0.524/km2. A connecting place between Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and Kerala, and Annamalai hills, conflicts exist in Coimbatore Range – Walayar Valley and Thadagam Valley, Bolampatty Range - Narasimapuram Valley, Periyanayakanpalayam Range - Thadagam Valley and Anaikatti valley, Karamadai Range – Vellangad Valley, Mettupalayam – Bhavani River Bank and Kallar River Bank.

To address the problems, the department is speeding up the work of installing solar fencing along the reserve forest boundary besides creating Elephant Proof Trenches (EPT) in conflict-prone pockets. On the reactive mode, the department has equipped itself with adequate number of anti-depredation squad and anti-poaching watchers, powerful search lights, fire crackers to scare and chase the elephants back into the jungle. Going one step forward, the department has also embarked on utilising science to monitor and take pre-emptive steps to prevent the straying of the herd. In a tie-up with the Coimbatore Institute of Technology, the Forest Department is pinning hopes on the proto-type of an early warning system on elephant movement.