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| Last Updated:: 15/02/2022

Biosphere Reserves in Kerala

           The Indian government has established 17 Biosphere Reserves of India, which protect larger areas of natural and often include one or more National Parks and/or preserves, along buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.  Of these two were located in Kerala.


Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve


        The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is an International Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats, Nilgiri Hills range of South India. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster conjoining the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Location: The reserve encompasses 5,520 km² in the states of Tamil Nadu (2537.6 km²), Karnataka (1527.4 km²) and Kerala (1455.4 km²). It forms an almost complete ring around the Nilgiri Plateau.              

Ecology: Corresponding to their altitudinal and climatic gradients, the natural vegetation changes from tropical wet evergreen forest along the western slopes to montane stunted Shola forest amidst the grassy down on the upper plateau and on the east, progressively drier deciduous forests ending in thorny scrub. This setting is home for a variety of animals-the lion-tailed macaque in the evergreen forests, the Nilgiri tahr in the grassy downs, the black buck in the dry scrub and the tiger and the elephant throughout the region.  To the north, the biosphere reserve begins in the Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka and the adjoining Wayanad sanctuary of Kerala. The moist deciduous forests and teak plantations of Nagarhole harbours abundant population of gaur, spotted deer, sambar and wild pig which support a sizeable number of carnivores such as tiger and leopard. Nagarhole is perhaps the best place in south India for sighting these large cats. The forest cover along the Kabini river has been reduced due to the construction of an irrigation dam. The biosphere reserve is split into four major zones viz. (i) Core Zone- 1240.3 sq. km. (22.5%) (ii) Manipulation forestry Zone-3238.7 sq. km (58.6%)  (iii) Tourism Zone- 335.0 sq. km. (6.1%) (iv) Restoration Zone- 706.4 sq. km. (12.8%)

 Protected Areas: Mudumalai wild life sanctuary and national park (321.1 km²), Wayanad wildlife sanctuary ( 344km²), Bandipur national park (874km²), Nagarhole national park (643 km²), Nugu wild life sanctuary, Mukurthi national park (78 km²) and Silent Valley national park (89.52km²) are protected areas within this reserve. The Biosphere Reserve also includes zones of the Nilgiris open to forestry and tourism including: Nilgiris District (North (448.3 km²) and Nilgiris District South (198.8 km²)), Erode District (Sathyamangalam forest (745.9km²) and Erode (49.3 km²)) and Coimbatore District (696.2 km²) in Tamil Nadu. The reserve extends from the tropical moist forests of the windward western slopes of the Ghats to the tropical dry forests on the leeward east slopes. Rainfall ranges from 500 mm to 7000 mm per year. The reserve encompasses three ecoregions, the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, South Western Ghats montane rain forests, and South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests. The habitat types include montane rain forest, semi-evergreen moist forest, thorn forest and scrub, montane grassland, and high-elevation Shola forests.

Fauna and Flora: Fauna includes over 100 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, 80 species of reptiles; about 39 species of fish, 31 amphibians, 60 species of reptiles 316 species of butterflies and innumerable invertebrates. Rare animals include the tiger and the Nilgiri Tahr. The reserve has very rich plant diversity. Of 3300 species, 1232 are endemic.

Conservation and Management of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve: Conservation and management of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve depends on the coordination between government agencies and the local people. For effective management, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has been zonalised as (a) core zone (1240, (b) buffer zone (4280 The buffer zone is further divided into manipulation zones like forestry, tourism and recreation zones. These zones are located in all the three states of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala into which the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve extends. Most of the plantations are seen only in the manipulation zone. Being one of the hotspots of biodiversity, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has some national parks and wildlife sanctuaries within its boundaries. Conservation of wildlife is the main objective of these national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Some of these areas have been designated by the government as Project Tiger and Project Elephant areas.



Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve


          The Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve (ABR) was established in 2001 and includes 3,500.36 km2 out of which 1828 km² is in Kerala and 1672.36 km² is in Tamil Nadu.  The Western Ghats, Agasthyamalai Sub-Cluster, including all of Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site. Agasthyamala is located in this biosphere area.

Location: This biosphere reserve straddles the border of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts in Kerala andTirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts in Tamil Nadu, South India at the southern end of the Western Ghats.  It is composed of Neyyar, Peppara and Shendurney wildlife Sanctuaries and their adjoining areas of Achencoil, Thenmala, Konni, Punalur, Thiruvananthapuram divisions and Agasthyavanam special division in Kerala. The reserve now covers parts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta Districts in Kerala.

Ecology: The reserve includes the Indian Ecoregions of South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, South Western Ghats montane rain forests and Shola. It is the habitat for 2,000 varieties of medicinal plants, of which at least 50 are rare and endangered species. Rare animals include the tiger, Asian Elephant, and Nilgiri Tahr. Agastyamalai is also home to the Kanikaran, one of the oldest surviving ancient tribes in the world. The Biosphere reserve is split into three major zones viz. Core Zone, Buffer Zone and Transition Zone. In Kerala the break up for the above three zones are as follows

(i) Core Zone -352 Sq. Km- this zone of the Biosphere Reserve will be kept free from all human pressures external to the system.

(ii) Buffer Zone 691 Sq. Km- The manipulation activities, which may be permitted in the buffer zone, will be in conformity with general guidelines for management of the Bio-sphere Reserve

(iii) Transition Zone 1828 Sq. Km- The state governments will further demarcate the heavily populated / disturbed areas of the buffer Zone to be designated as transitition / restoration zone for priority intervention to restore / improve the general condition in accordance with the guidelines. The sanctuaries covered are Neyyar, Peppra and Shenguruny sanctuaries.     

In Tamil Nadu the break up for the above three zones are as follows 
(i) Core Zone- 691 Sq. Km 

(ii) Buffer Zone 198.36 Sq. Km. 

(iii) Transition Zone 1672.36 Sq. Km. 

          The sanctuaries covered are Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. This region, extending to nearly 3,500 sq. km., is considered the richest bio-geographic province in the Indian sub-continent. 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. 

Protected Area: The protected areas of the reserver includes Neyyar, Peppara and Shenduruny wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala and Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu. 

Fauna and Flora: The proposed Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve is 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.

Conservation and Management:
 A local committee and a state level Biosphere Management Committee co-ordinate the activities of various departments in the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve area and ensure the scientific management of the ABR according to guidelines of the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Agasthyamalai  reserve management  is awaiting approval as participant in the UNESCO-Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme.