Tamil Nadu

Expand Meghamalai wildlife sanctuary: SACON

Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) has recommended the expansion of Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Theni district to boost conservation in the southern Western Ghats.

After conducting studies on distribution, abundance and conservation of primates and mammals in the Meghamalai landscape for sixty years, the SACON scientists have strongly recommended the creation of a new wildlife sanctuary or expansion of the existing 269.11 sq.km sanctuary as many wildlife habitats are outside the protected area.

According to the findings, large tracts of natural forest was given on lease to different companies for a fixed period long back in upper Manalar, Vellimalai, Ammagajam. These contiguous forests were converted as commercial plantations such as tea, coffee and cardamom but are interspersed with rainforests harbouring high diversity of animals, including large mammals.

As this is an area where large portion of high elevation forests (above 1,400m) still persist supporting high richness of endemic and threatened vertebrates, the SACON scientists have recommended that the lease period of these estates should not be further extended and should be gradually acquired and restored.

For instance, the mean group size of the lion-tailed macaque (LTM) is 33.25, which is much higher than many other forests including Silent Valley and Anamalai hills.

“Although the number of groups is small (eight), the minimum population size of 266 individuals is very promising,” says Honnavalli N. Kumara, a SACON scientist involved in the studies.

In all, the SACON scientists recorded 63 species of mammals belonging to 24 families of which 24 were globally threatened with one critically endangered.

Direct and indirect evidence of tigers were mostly restricted to western plateau of the landscape, the results show. Noting that the area also experiences severe interruption of locals for cattle grazing which increases the chance of spreading diseases from cattle to wild ungulates, the SACON scientists caution that this could become a serious issue for prey base of tigers in the adjoining Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR).

Increasing protection in the landscape would also reduce the hunters entering PTR through these forests that would facilitate tigers to occupy the landscapes of Meghamalai, Highwavys and Varusanadu ranges. The “highly exploited” Varusanadu valley and hills is a potential patch for ‘Conservation Reserve’ program, Mr. Kumara says.

There are about 1,802 encroachments in the range covering 2,060 hectares according to forest working plan 2004-2014. The lands were encroached to create monoculture plantations (silk cotton) three to four decades ago.

As resettling the encroachers will be a troublesome work and that will lead to conflict between forest department and local residents, SACON scientists have suggested it be made a Conservation Reserve so that people inside the valley will not be evicted and at the same time biodiversity of the landscape could be maintained.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 7:43:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/expand-meghamalai-wildlife-sanctuary-sacon/article6127459.ece

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