Biosphere plan for Unesco nod


The Union Minister for Environment and Forest, Mr. T.R. Balu, today said the Centre was fully in favour of having Agasthyamalai and its environs designated as a `biosphere reserve' so as to bring the region under the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

At a press conference here, he said the Centre would shortly forward this joint proposal of the Governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to Unesco for further action. Once included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the region would attract substantial flow of funding from international agencies for conservation activities.

This region, extending to nearly 3,500 sq. km., is considered the richest bio-geographic province in the Indian sub-continent and comprises the Agasthyamalai, Mundanthurai, Kalakkad, Neyyar, Mahendragiri, Neyyar, Peppara, Shenthuruni and Achenkoil. A sizable portion of the proposed biosphere reserve enjoys protected status at present.

The biosphere concept recognises the need to involve the people subsisting on the resources of the region in the conservation efforts. The flow of funds under the programme targets the uplift of these people so that their dependence on the biological resources is brought to a sustainable level. The programme also lays stress on research and monitoring activities, documentation of the resources, environmental education and training and international interaction at a scientific level.

The idea of setting up a biosphere reserve for this region was first mooted by Kerala in February, 1999. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department was all support for the suggestion and the two sides agreed to commission the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, to prepare a detailed report on the proposal. This report was submitted to the Union Government last year.

The proposed biosphere reserve is a natural unit of mountain system at the southern end of the peninsula, cut off from the rest of the Western Ghats by a narrow pass known as the Aryankavu Pass or the Shencotta Pass. It has the largest tract of untouched rain forests in peninsular India.

The core area falls within the protected areas of Neyyar, Peppara and Shenduruny wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala and Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu. It is fairly undisturbed and extends to nearly 1,000 sq. km.

The buffer zone lies within the wildlife sanctuaries and the tiger reserve and occupies an area of approximately 1,500 sq. km. In both the States, diverse eco-development activities are currently in progress, especially on the fringe areas of the forest tracts where people depend on the forest resources for their living.

The biosphere reserve also includes a transition zone, which covers an area of 1,000 sq. km. The Kerala portion of this zone is actually wedged between the northern Shenduruny sanctuary and the southern Neyyar and Peppara sanctuaries. In Tamil Nadu, the transition zone is situated, on the northern part, around Kuttalam where a lot of seasonal tourist activities are promoted.

The proposed Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve was a pristine paleotropic region with a very high floral endemism and tremendously rich biodiversity, locked up in an area exhibiting an overall representation of the biota of the southern Western Ghats. The site represents the richest centre of endemic plants, abode of all vegetation types met within the peninsula, richest repository of medicinal plants, the southern-most haven of endangered animals including primates, amphibians, reptiles and fishes and a treasure house of wild relatives of domesticated crops.

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