KERALA

Declare Kakkayam forests a protected area: MNHS

KOZHIKODE, FEB. 26. The Kakkayam forests in Kozhikode district is a virtual treasure trove of floral biodiversity, and needed to be conserved by declaring it as a protected area, the Malabar Natural History Society (MNHS), has suggested.

A recent survey on the biodiversity of the Kakkayam forests conducted by the Kozhikode-based MNHS has identified as many as 410 plant species. Of these, 125 are endemic to the Western Ghats.

The presence of more than 30 per cent endemic, and many rare and endangered plants here comparable with any other protected area in the Western Ghats, points to the need for a protected status.

The MNHS team pointed out that since the region is the origin of the Kuttiady river which recharges the Kakkayam and Peruvannamozhi reservoir, the preservation of pristine forests upstream is significant. Destruction of any kind of forest here will decrease the water flow of the river. Inversely, any degradation will have an adverse impact on the general environment of Kozhikode district or Malabar. The preservation of this forest is possible only if it is declared as a protected area.

The study was coordinated by a MNHS team comprising Jafer Palot and Sathyan Meppayur, besides Kerala Forest Department range officers, N. M. Mathew and A. Sathyanathan. The floral exploration was led by Jomy Augustine (field botanist, St.Thomas College, Pala, Kottayam district), K. P. Rajesh, Kiran Raji, and E. K. Shaji (Calicut University).

Among the endemic plants identified were `Palaquin ellipticum', `Poeciloneuron indicum' `Vateria indica', `Garcinia malabarica', `Polyalthia fragrans', `Myristica fatua', and `Ottonephalium stipulatum'. Four kinds of Calamus (cane, `chooral' in local parlance), and 12 species of `Strobilanthes'(`nilakurinji'), were sighted during the exploration.

Despite the season not being favourable for certain other groups of plants, the team located 33 grass species, six of which were endemic. A valuable find was the rare grass species `Dimeria balakrishnaniana'. As many as 30 species of ferns including the tree fern `Cyathia gigantea', and hundred varieties of bryophytes were recorded.

Endemic genus such as `Ottonephalium', and `Poeciloneuron' were the other major findings.

A large assemblage of rare palm-like plants `Penenga diksonii', were also found growing in the area, besides endangered plants such as `Metromyrtus wayanadensis', `Dillenia indica', and Nothopegia racemosa'.

Because of the rich floral wealth and network of water sources (streams, rivers and reservoirs), a relatively good faunal wealth was also noticed during the survey. The survey recorded 106 bird species, 104 butterfly varieties, 27 types of dragonflies, 40 mammal species, innumerable hill stream and reservoir fishes, besides amphibians and reptiles.

According to G. Christopher, scientist at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram., during summer the Kakkayam forest tracts serve as an elephant corridor between Wayanad and Nilambur hills. These corridors have to be kept free from bottlenecks so that elephants can use these habitats. The need to study the movement patterns, and habitat use of larger herbivores in the Kakkayam forests for its better management in future, was also stressed.

This is the third such programme being conducted by the MNHS on the biodiversity of the region. Earlier surveys had been conducted on the bird population in the area.