Baobab grove faces disappearance

K. Venkateshwarlu
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'kalpa vriksh':The Baobab tree lives on for centuries despite the emerging concrete jungle. —PHOTO: by ARRANGeMENT
'kalpa vriksh':The Baobab tree lives on for centuries despite the emerging concrete jungle. —PHOTO: by ARRANGeMENT

Will the grove of Baobabs, the endangered species voted as one of the ten magnificent trees around the world by green bloggers and fortunately located in our own backyard, be swept away by the relentless march of urbanisation?

Hard to believe, but a grove of six such giant Baobab (Adansonia digitata) stand tall in the Chengicherla reserve forest on the city outskirts. For centuries, they have survived the vicissitudes of nature. But sadly, no environmentalist can now say for sure for how long, what with the rapid building activity threatening to gobble up the last of the green spaces around the city.

“They have been there for 500 to 700 years, while some botanists say they could have crossed 1,000 years, calling them living monuments but with no special protection. I am worried about their future,” said N. Shiva Kumar, the “nature nomad”, who is on a mission of documenting the surviving Baobabs across the country. So far he could find only 70 of the very many that existed decades ago.

Colossal girth

Locally called Pulichinta Chettu, perhaps for its giant size, the largest of the Baobabs in the grove has a colossal girth of nearly 50 feet and a widely spread canopy. “It is owing to such deceptive local names that it is difficult to trace them in our country,” said Mr. Kumar. He rates this Baobab as one of the largest in the country worth being preserved.

The smallest of the six trees has a girth of 20 feet, while that of the remaining four range from 30 to 40 feet and “fortunately all of them are in good health, capable of surviving for long provided they are protected from man’s ever greedy interventions.” During his recent visit he observed habitations coming up close to the forest. Incidentally, he was the one who brought to light and saved a Baobob that was to be axed for the Outer Ring Road project near Ramoji Film City.

Quaint history

Like everything else connected with erstwhile kingdoms, Baobabs in India have a quaint history. Having their roots in the African Savannahs, Baobabs are believed to have been brought to India, some as mementos by slaves, soldiers and traders, hundreds of years ago, going by their locations in and around Muslim kingdoms. One of them is the popular “Hathiyon Ka Jhar” (elephantine tree) near Golconda fort.

Described as “kalpa vriksh” and ‘tree of life’ for its ‘magical power’ to fulfil wishes and provide food, shelter and water, the Baobabs of Chengicherla are no different.

M. S. Kulkarni of the Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh (BSAP), who accompanied Mr. Kumar, says the grove played host to at least 30 species of fauna, including the grey hornbill, black kites, myna, parakeets, munia, green bee-eater, squirrels and lizards.

With building activity threatening to devour the few green spaces around the city, this endangered tree species is under threat



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