Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, The Western Ghats, India

An Article by Mohan Pai




Abode of Sage Agasthya, one of the seven Rishish of the Hindu Mythology.
Tamil language is considered as a boon from this sage.
The southernmost reaches of the Western Ghats, i.e. The Agasthyamalai Range extends from Mahendragiri near Kanyakumari in the extreme south to the Ariyankavu Pass near Shenkottai. The Agasthyamalai Range continues into Tamil Nadu, south of the Kerala border. This is the only part of the Western Ghats where some stretch of the western slopes are also in Tamil Nadu.Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve straddles the border of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram Districts in Kerala and Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu, at the southern end of the Western Ghats. The Biosphere lies Between 8° 8′ to 9° 10′ North Latitude and 76° 52′ to 77° 34′ East Longitude. Central location is 8°39’N 77°13’E / 8.65, 77.217.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. Inclusion of adjoining areas of Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu has been approved. The reserve now covers parts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta Districts in Kerala.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 total area of the Bio-sphere reserve is 3500.36 Sq. Km out of which 1828 Sq. Km. is in Kerala and 1672.36 Sq. Km. is in Tamil Nadu. The Bio-sphere Reserve now covers parts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari District in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta District in Kerala.
The Biosphere reserve is split into three major zones viz. Core Zone, Buffer Zone and Transition Zone.
Kerala the break up for the above three zones are as follows:
Core Zone 352 Sq. Km
Buffer Zone 691 Sq. Km.
Transition Zone 1828 Sq. Km.
The sanctuaries covered are Neyyar, Peppara and Shenguruny sanctuaries.
In Tamil Nadu the break up for the above three zones are as follows:
Core Zone 691 Sq. Km
Buffer Zone 198.36 Sq. Km.
Transition Zone 1672.36 Sq. Km.
The sanctuaries covered are Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
Thenmala forest
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. 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. 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 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.
Agasthya Malai (Agastyarkoodam) is a peak of 1868 m in the Western Ghats. This mountain falls in the Tirunelveli District and Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu and the Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala, south India.It is a pilgrim centre, where devotees come to worship sage Agasthyar. Agasthyar was a Dravidian sage, and is considered to be one of the seven Rishis (Saptarishi) of Hindu mythology. The Tamil language is considered to be a boon from Agasthyar. There is a full-sized statue of Agasthyar at the top of the peak and the devotees can render poojas themselves.
Europeans, particularly those from England, were the first to establish tea gardens around the base stations of Agasthyarkoodam at Brimore, Bonacaud and Ponmudi. It is the abode of rare flora and fauna and even wild animals. Shirodhara, one of the healing techniques of Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a form of alternative medicine in use primarily in the Indian subcontinent.
Protected Areas
Kalkad-Mundanthurai Tiger reserve
Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), situated in the Southern Western Ghats in Tirunelveli district, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is the second largest protected area in Tamil Nadu State. This reserve was created in 1988 by combining Kalakad Wildlife Sanctuary (251 km²) and Mundanthurai Wildlife Sanctuary (567 km²), both established in 1962. Notification of 77 km² of parts of Veerapuli and Kilamalai Reserve Forests in adjacent Kanyakumari district, added to the reserve in April 1996, is pending. A 400 km² (154.4 sq mi) core area of this reserve has been proposed as a National Park.
This Reserve is situated in the south Western Ghats of India about 45 km west of Tirunelveli town. It is bound by forests in west, north and south and by villages in the east. Agasthiarmalai (1681 mtrs) which falls within the core zone of the Reserve is the 3rd highest peak in South India. Part of Agasthyamalai hills in the core of the Reserve is considered one of the five centres of plant diversity and endemism in India (IUCN). The topography is undulating. This is the only area of Western Ghats which has longest raining period of about 8 months,and it is the only non-dipterocarp evergreen forest in the region. It is floristically very different from other sites.
The rich forests of the Reserve form the catchment area for 14 rivers and streams. Among them the Tambraparani, Ramanadi, Karayar, Servalar, Manimuthar, Pachayar, Kodaiyar, Kadnar, Kallar form the back-bone of the irrigation network and drinking water for people of Tirunelveli, Turicorin and part of Kanyakumari district. Sever major dams – Karaiyar, Lower Dam, Servalar, Manimuthar, Ramanadi, Kadnanadi and Kodaiyar – owe their existence to these rivers.
Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary
 Sprawling over an area of 128 sq km, the Neyyar Dam and Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most frequented and beautiful wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala. Tucked away in the southeast region of the Western Ghats, this Kerala wildlife sanctuary has vegetation from tropical wet evergreen forests to grasslands. It was notified as a wildlife sanctuary in 1958. It is the catchment area for the Neyyar River, Mullayar and Kallar. The wooded forests and hills of the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary offer shelter to rich and diverse flora and fauna. The wildlife includes Elephants, Nilgiri Tahrs , Sambhars, Tigers, Gaur, Wild Boars, Jungle Cats, Indian Porcupines, Barking Dogs, Malabar Squirrels, Sloth Bears, Pythons, Cobras, Flying Snakes and many other mammals and reptiles.
Avifauna includes White-breasted Water Hen, King Fishers, Woodpeckers, Little Green Heron, Indian Cuckoos, Indian Hill Mynas, Mynas, Egrets, Little Cormorants, Gray Jungle Fowl, Darters and many more. There is also a Crocodile Farm, Lion Safari Park and Deer Farm.

The Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary has varied vegetation from tropical evergreen forests to grasslands. Agasthyakoodam at 1890 meters above sea level is the highest elevation of this wildlife sanctuary.The sanctuary strectches from Neyyatinkara Taluk to the Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. It is the drainage basin of the Neyyar river and its tributaries — Mullayar and Kallar — which originate in Agasthyarkoodam, the second highest peak in Kerala. The nearest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram (32 km away) while the nearest railhead is also at Thiruvananthapuram.
Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary

Located at about 50 km northeast of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most beautiful wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala. Covering an area of over 53 sq km, the sanctuary is known for its verdant tropical forests and a wide variety of wildlife including birds. Known for its unique eco-diversity, the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a sanctuary in 1983, in order to protect and preserve its rich and diverse flora and fauna. The Peppara Dam, a large water reservoir built on the Karamana River and covering an area over 5.82 sq km, is situated in the heart of the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary also houses 13 tribal settlements, which are known for their unique customs and traditions.The topography of Peppara chiefly comprises of highly undulating hills with elevations varying between 100 meters to 1,717 meters. There are three major forest belts in the sanctuary that include southern hilltop tropical evergreen forests found above elevation of 1,000 meters; West coast semi- evergreen forests found between elevation of 150 meters to 1,050 meters, Southern moist mixed deciduous forests occupying the lower slopes of the hills. The major wildlife in Peppara include Elephants, Indian Bison, Sambars, Barking Deer, Wild Boars, Tigers, Panthers, Wild Dogs, Lion-tailed Macaques, Nilgiri Langurs, Malabar Squirrels and Mouse Deer to name a few. Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is also rich in its avifauna, especially water birds, including Darters, Little Cormorants, Pied King Fishers and Egrets. A variety of reptiles found here includes the King Cobras and Pythons. The Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is also famous for its rich and diverse population of moths and butterflies.
The Following major forest types are recognised in the wildlife sanctuary.1 .Southern hilltop tropical evergreenThis type of forest is of stunted evergreen, found above 1000m elevation on the top of hills. They are exposed to heavy wind and less favourable soil and climatic conditions.



2 .West coast semi- evergreenA transitional zone between evergreen and moist deciduous, this type occurs mostly in hill slopes from 150 to 1050m. The riparian areas also contain them.3. Southern moist mixed deciduous forestsThis type of forest covers more than 60% of the tract along the lower slopes of hills.







Shendurney River

Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary
The Sanctuary consists of catchment areas of tributaries of Kallada River upstream of the Parappar dam in Kerala. It extends over 100 square kilometres. The Sanctuary got its name from the majestic tree, Chenkurinji, which is mostly found in this area.
Besides, one of the major rivers that flows through the area is called Chenduruny (Chenthuruny). The river rises from the Alwarkurichi peak, the highest point in the Sanctuary (1550 metres), and much of its course is now covered by the reservoir.
You can visit the Sanctuary by boat from Thenmala. A battery powered van will take you to the boarding point from the information centre of Thenmala Ecotourism Project. Trekking is allowed in some parts of the buffer area.
This Sanctuary has animals such as the bonnet monkey, lion tailed monkey, Nilgiri langur, squirrels, Indian bison, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, Indian elephant and wild boar. There are more than a hundred species of birds in the sanctuary. However, few could be seen during a boat trip.

Chenkurinji Tree

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