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