Tamil Nadu

Anamalai Tiger Reserve’s (ATR) Butterfly Park at Aliyar on Pollachi-Valparai Road is buzzing with winged insects

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It is a nippy morning, so we bask in the sun at Anamalai Tiger Reserve’s (ATR) Butterfly Park at Aliyar on Pollachi-Valparai Road, a two hour drive from Coimbatore. Like us, hundreds of butterflies soak in the sunshine, — dark blue tiger, blue tiger, and common crows — all buzzing around the small, purple flowers of thael kodukku (Indian heliotrope). Further away, showy orange lantana blooms attract plain tiger butterflies, even as rows and rows of ornamental nithya kalyani with pink flowers, and yellow dahlias vie for their attention.

A stone pavement leads to the watchtower where visitors can enjoy a view of Aliyar Dam’s pristine blue water. Carved replicas of birds, butterflies, and reptiles, including an intimidating king cobra, are installed at the park to pique the interest of visitors. An artificial cascade draws children.

Our tour, led by V Selvam, Assistant Conservator of Forests, starts here in a rugged landscape that has been developed into a butterfly habitat with nectar plants like marigold, lantana, petunia, and hibiscus. There are also curry leaf, cotton trees and citrus trees, all host plants where eggs are laid, and pupa are formed. The project aims to spark an interest in conservation by collaborating with NGOs, volunteers, and students.

Lessons in conservation

“Sharing knowledge is key. For example, bonnet macaques headed back into the forests during the lock down because there were no tourists to feed them junk. We constantly remind visitors about the need for responsible tourism,” says MG Ganesan, Deputy Director of ATR. “During a regular outing, visitors enjoy views, dump plastic, and go back to routine. In ecotourism, we keep reiterating the need on conserving resources,” adds Selvam.

A visit to remember
  • A total of 20 persons, with advance bookings, will be allowed per session for the package tour. The one-day session charged at ₹500 includes visits to history museum, butterfly garden, orchidarium, habitats of key species, a workshop at the Advanced Wildlife Management Training Centre at Attakatti and interactions with experts. For details and bookings in December, call 98425-95826 or e-mail atrreception@gmail.com. You can also visit atrpollachi.com

The park is thriving with over 40 species of butterflies (of the total 325 in Tamil Nadu) including blue tiger, crimson rose, Tamil bushbrown, southern birdwing (Asia’s largest butterfly), Malabar banded peacock, and common mormon. Overall, ATR has recorded 315 species of butterflies so far, of which forester B Rajan has photo documented over 45, including Tamil yeoman, the State butterfly. “We planted 30 types of host plants like wild lime, and varieties of grasses. All four Bs — bees, bats, birds, butterflies — play an essential role in the food chain and are indicators of a healthy ecosystem,” he says, explaining how butterflies are crucial in pollination. K Anvar, a biologist at the park adds, “We encourage visitors to grow host plants in their backyard. In most homes, people cut trees like moringa and curry leaf when they see larvae and caterpillar on the trunks. After a visit to the park, may be they will reconsider it.”

Our next stop is the Kavi Aruvi waterfall, which were earlier known as kurangaruvi (which translates to ‘monkey falls’ thanks to the many bonnet macaques in the area, as well as the the rushing water, akin to a jumping monkey!). The new name is drawn from Sangam literature, where monkeys are called ‘kavi’ and ‘kaviarasan’ in Agananuru and Purananuru.

Talk to the Tahr

At the ninth hairpin bend, we encounter a pair of Nilgiri tahr, roaming freely on the almost deserted ghat road. Another tahr lazes atop a hillock.A three kilometre drive gets us to Attakatti Training Centre, currently conducting talks on hornbills, as November is Hornbill Festival month here. Of the 54 species of hornbills across the world, nine are found in India, and four in South India. “All the four species — great pied hornbill, Malabar pied hornbill, Malabar grey hornbill and Indian grey hornbill — can been seen at ATR, a bio-diversity hotspot of the Western Ghats,” says Anvar.

Hornbills are frugivores (fruit-eating birds) as up to 70% of their food consists of large ficus fruits, figs, and berries. “Owing to their diet, hornbills have a great ecological significance in dispersal of seeds and regeneration of forests. Their presence signifies a healthy rain forest. They are also known as the farmers of the forests” says Ravindran Kamatchi of Natural History Trust, who participated in this tour, along with his team.

Save the habitat

“Hornbills could be seen in hundreds along this stretch. For the past three months, I am visiting every day, but am yet to catch a glimpse of a single bird. We are monitoring and protecting our rainforest as they are like sponges that conserve water. With landslides and floods, our rivers are drying up. We have to conserve to leave the forest in safe hands of the future,” he says, adding, “After the tour, if you go back and plant one aala maram, arasa maram or ichi, it is a ray of hope.”

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