Press on Environment and Wildlife
Environment Ministry to soon declare Agastyamalai a biosphere reserve (January Week 1 (2006)) The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to notify the ecologically fragile Agastyamalai range in the Western Ghats as the country's newest biosphere reserve (BR).
With a notification expected soon, Agastyamalai (which includes the forest ranges of both Tirunelveli/Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and Kollam/Trivandrum in Kerala) will join the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve as the third BR in the State. It will also be the second inter-State reserve after the Nilgiris. Two more BRs — one each in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — will also be notified soon, taking the total number in the country to 14, according to a Ministry official.
Agastyamalai, spread over a 1,300 sqkm at 1,868 metres above the sea level on the Western Ghats, is a classified biodiversity hotspot as its natural vegetation (ranging from scrub to evergreen rain forests) includes a number of endemic plants.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to notify the ecologically fragile Agastyamalai range in the Western Ghats as the country's newest biosphere reserve (BR).
With a notification expected soon, Agastyamalai (which includes the forest ranges of both Tirunelveli/Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and Kollam/Trivandrum in Kerala) will join the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve as the third BR in the State. It will also be the second inter-State reserve after the Nilgiris. Two more BRs — one each in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — will also be notified soon, taking the total number in the country to 14, according to a Ministry official.
Agastyamalai, spread over a 1,300 sqkm at 1,868 metres above the sea level on the Western Ghats, is a classified biodiversity hotspot as its natural vegetation (ranging from scrub to evergreen rain forests) includes a number of endemic plants.
A certified faunal gene pool sanctuary, it is a natural greenhouse for 2,000 varieties medicinal plants out of which at least 50 are rare and endangered species, including orchids. Agastyamalai is also home to the Kanis, one of the oldest surviving ancient tribes in the world.
The area already hosts the wildlife sanctuaries of Neyyar, Peppara, Chenthuruny, and the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. Repeated anthropogenic stress and lack of adequate documentation and preservation of rare plant varieties have severely compromised the biodiversity of the region, said to be even older than that of the Himalayas, conservationists say.
According to The Hindu, the BR status is expected to bring in better infrastructure support and more Central funding for conservation.
"The call to declare Agastyamalai a BR was raised as early as 1992 when researchers found many endemic fauna were on the brink of extinction. The notification, though belated, will help conserve what remains," observes a biodiversity expert.
The State Forest department, which forwarded the proposal to the Centre, is mapping the geographical boundaries of the BR, says C.K. Sridharan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden.
70 eagles killed in 3 days at dumping site near Ranikhet (January Week 1 (2006))
The Indian Express reported the mysterious death of over 70 eagles in the past three days in Ghinghalikhal area near Ranikhet has forced the Uttaranchal wildlife authorities to put up a cordon around the site and send the carcasses for lab tests. According to the wildlife officials, more than 70 eagles were found dead at a garbage dump near Ranikhet.
Almora District Veterinary officials, after conducting a post-mortem of the birds, have sent some samples to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Bareilly, Pantnagar University, Bhopal to know the exact cause of the deaths.
Uttaranchal Chief Wildlife Warden Srikant Chandola said that the entire area has been cordoned off. ‘‘Probably, the eagles died after consuming some poisonous substance in the garbage. But the exact cause can only be known from the laboratory reports,’’ Chandola added.
Locals believe the eagles died after consuming poisonous meat. ‘‘We have found traces of poultry in the birds,’’ Dr Ashok Bisht, Veterinary Officer, Ranikhet, said.
Innards of poultry and meat residue from the nearby Kumoan Regimental Centre (KRC) of the Army and Ranikhet town is dumped at the site, along with garbage.
Centre shelves Pamba-Vaippar river-linking project (January Week 1 (2006)) The Union Government has shelved the controversial project to link the Pamba and Achenkovil rivers of Kerala with Vaippar river in Tamil Nadu, reports The Pioneer.
Mr Radhakrishnan said here on Wednesday that he had received a letter in this regard from Union Minister Sontosh Mohan Dev.
The Kerala Legislative Assembly and the State Government have been appealing to the Union Government to give up the river linking project.
The letter from the Union Government says: "It has taken note of the resolution of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and has decided not to treat the Pamba-Achenkovil-Vaippar Link as a priority link, for consensus-building purpose."
The letter also criticises the State Government's earlier stand and specifically mentions the role of former Water Resources Minister TM Jacob who had agreed to the project in 2003.
"After detailed deliberations of the 19th annual general meeting of the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) Society held on March 26, 2003, which was also attended by Mr TM Jacob, Minister for Water Resources, Government of Kerala, the president of the Society decided that the NWDA and the Government of Kerala jointly carry out a study for the Pamba-Achenkovil and Vembanad wetland system.
The Government of Kerala subsequently expressed its inability to abide by the decision."
Terming the Union Government's decision to stop the project as a moral victory for Kerala, Mr Radhakrishnan thanked all the political parties and organisations for the combined effort in raising such a need. He also requested similar consensus on all matters relating to changes in the age-old inter-state water-sharing agreements, which affect Kerala's interests badly.
Poacher Sansar Chand charged (January Week 1 (2006)) The Indian Express and The Telegraph reported that the CBI has filed a chargesheet against wildlife smuggler Sansar Chand and his four associates for poaching tigers from Sariska wildlife sanctuary.
CBI filed a chargesheet against wildlife smuggler Sansar Chand and his four associates under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) — used for the first time in wildlife cases — and Wildlife Protection Act for poaching of tigers in the Sariska tiger reserve.
Chand, also known as the Veerappan of north India, was arrested on June 30 last year. The CBI then took him in custody.
He is believed to have revealed during interrogation that an organised crime syndicate exists across wildlife reserves in the country
The chargesheet was filed on December 23. The court has posted the matter later this month for taking cognizance of the chargesheet. While under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), maximum punishment for poaching doesn’t exceed seven years, if convicted under MCOCA, the accused could be imprisoned for life.
Meanwhile, the SC today wanted the Madhya Pradesh government to hand over all wildlife cases related to Panna tiger reserve to the CBI. The Environment Ministry has already decided to ask CBI to investigate the poaching cases related to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.
Scheme to develop forests to be implemented (January Week 1 (2006)) As many as 26 forest divisions have been chosen by the Karnataka State Government under the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)-funded scheme since May for sustainable development of forests. The Rs. 780-crore project is now named "Karnataka Sustainable Forest Management and Bio-Diversity Conservation (KSFMBC) project."
Initially, only a few divisions covering a small number of districts were involved for sustainable development under the JBIC scheme. Later, the State Government included 26 forest divisions, including Madikeri and Virajpet divisions in Kodagu district.
The scheme became operational since May last. Progress was tardy in Kodagu owing to monsoon, but works have resumed, Madikeri Deputy Conservator of Forests, Range Gowda, told The Hindu .
Accordingly, different models have been worked out to ensure implementation of the scheme. As much as 250 hectares of forests will be developed in each of the 24 territorial divisions and two wildlife divisions selected under model I.
This Model involves natural forests, and planting tree saplings will be taken up to "fill the gaps." Similarly, under model IV, 293 hectares of forests will be developed in each of the 24 territorial divisions. This model will have forests which have less vegetation than the model I. It might require more tree saplings to be planted to fill the gaps. Only local species will be planted under the programme.
The territorial divisions are: Belgaum, Gokak, Davangere, Kollegal, Chikmagalur, Koppa, Dharwad, Gadag, Haveri, Mysore, Hunsur, Hassan, Shimoga, Bhadravati, Sagar, Madikeri, Virajpet, Karwar, Haliyal, Yellapur, Honnavara, Sirsi, Mangalore and Kundapur.
The two wildlife divisions are Chamrajnagar and Dandeli, Mr. Gowda said. In the two wildlife divisions, the model IV forest development will not be taken up as also no village forest committees (VFCs) will be involved.
The VFC 's involved in the operations will get money in the scheme of things to protect the plants.
Nine VFCs each would be involved in 12 forest divisions, eight in 10 forest divisions and six in two forest divisions, he said.
In the second phase, (Project B) 14 divisions are being covered. A total of 4,000 hectares would be covered under model I and 7,000 hectares in model IV. It involves 100 VFCs. Mr. Gowda said.
Horseshoe crab: MoEF promises prompt action (Issue of the week, December Week 4 (2005)) Breaking its silence over the future of the endangered Horseshoe crab, the Ministry of Environment and Forest has promised prompt action to protect one of the earth’s oldest survivors.
‘‘We have received communications from the S&T ministry. Unfortunately, there is no status study yet on horseshoe crabs. We will initiate work soon and, unless any other agency comes forward, will involve the Wildlife Institute of India for the purpose. Once we have the report, we will put the horseshoe crab in an appropriate schedule,’’ Director General (Wildlife) RP Katyal said.
The Indian Express had on December 21 reported how the MoEF was sitting on a proposal by Science and technology Minister Kapil Sibal to include the crab that has survived 16 ice ages, in Schedule IV to ensure protection and research. Claiming it would involve research along the entire coastline, Katyal initially said a status report might take anything between six months to two years. Told that the dwindling crab population of just 3,000 found at a pocket along the Orissa coast, may become critically endangered by that time, he opened up: ‘‘It’s true we don’t have much information about horseshoe crabs yet. We can certainly benefit by the work done by the CSIR scientists at Goa and Pune. We will also like to see the film made by Mike Pandey.’’
Mike Pandey, whose landmark film - Timeless Traveller - on horseshoe crabs has won nine top international awards, expressed satisfaction. ‘‘We make these films to generate awareness and save the species. The policy-makers are welcome to watch these. But I would be happier if these films are also shown to the masses in national television,’’ he said.
Speaking from Goa’s National Institute of Oceanography, Dr Anil Chatterjee, who is researching on horseshoe crabs for years, offered all help to the MoEF. ‘‘We will certainly help to accelerate any process that secures the future of this unique creature,’’ he said.
At Goa lab, nine patents are filed and scientists are at the threshold of some path-breaking discoveries. Though being bred in labs at Goa, the absence of legal protection and the fact that they take about 10-12 years to reach sexual maturity, the horseshoe crabs face danger of extinction in India.
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