Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve, 2016

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve or Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve has been recently included in the UNESCO World network of Biosphere reserve in 2016.

The Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve was Established in 2001 and includes 3,500.36 km2 (1,351.50 sq mi) of which 1672.36 km² is in Tamilnadu and vast 1828 km² is in kerala .

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.
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.

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.

Kanikkarans, the Original Settlers of Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve

Tribal settlements within the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve rely on the forests and its 14 rivers for their livelihood. Kanikkarans, the area’s indigenous tribe, rely on agriculture, fishing and hunting. They live in huts made of bamboo and are known for medicinal healing through plants. However, while most of them have moved out of forests, there is still a small population that lives around the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve region. To promote sustainability, several programs have been setup to reduce the 3000-strong tribal population from using up all the resources, according to the UNESCO. Some of them also take up employment with the government as guides for tourists coming to the sanctuaries.

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve 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.

Among the commonly spotted animals are the Gaur or the Indian Bison which is struggling to find space in several other forest reserves of India. The Royal Bengal Tiger and the sloth bear also have a home here. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for birds while the Palani Hills is a favourite for bird-watchers to get a glimpse of the Malabar Parakeet apart from more than a hundred varieties of butterflies.

UNESCO stated that the biggest reason for including Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the list of 20 other biospheres around the world is the 400 endemic varieties of trees that have been protected in this biosphere. “Consisting mostly of tropical forests, the site is home to 2,254 species of higher plants including about 400 that are endemic. It is also a unique genetic reservoir of cultivated plants especially cardamom, jamune, nutmeg, pepper and plantain. Three wildlife sanctuaries, Shendurney, Peppara, Neyyar and Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve, are included in the site,”.



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