Spread over 1,300 sqkm on the Western Ghats, it is a classified biodiversity hotspot
CHENNAI: The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to notify the ecologically fragile Agastyamalai range in the Western Ghats as the country's newest biosphere reserve (BR).
With a notification expected soon, Agastyamalai (which includes the forest ranges of both Tirunelveli/Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and Kollam/Trivandrum in Kerala) will join the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve as the third BR in the State. It will also be the second inter-State reserve after the Nilgiris. Two more BRs - one each in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - will also be notified soon, taking the total number in the country to 14, according to a Ministry official.
Agastyamalai, spread over a 1,300 sqkm at 1,868 metres above the sea level on the Western Ghats, is a classified biodiversity hotspot as its natural vegetation (ranging from scrub to evergreen rain forests) includes a number of endemic plants.
A certified faunal gene pool sanctuary, it is a natural greenhouse for 2,000 varieties medicinal plants out of which at least 50 are rare and endangered species, including orchids. Agastyamalai is also home to the Kanis, one of the oldest surviving ancient tribes in the world.
The area already hosts the wildlife sanctuaries of Neyyar, Peppara, Chenthuruny, and the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. Repeated anthropogenic stress and lack of adequate documentation and preservation of rare plant varieties have severely compromised the biodiversity of the region, said to be even older than that of the Himalayas, conservationists say.
The BR status is expected to bring in better infrastructure support and more Central funding for conservation.
"The call to declare Agastyamalai a BR was raised as early as 1992 when researchers found many endemic fauna were on the brink of extinction. The notification, though belated, will help conserve what remains," observes a biodiversity expert.
The State Forest department, which forwarded the proposal to the Centre, is mapping the geographical boundaries of the BR, says C.K. Sridharan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden.