Wondrous Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

A veritable store house of natural wealth, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is an irreplaceable paradise. Located at the meeting point of the Western and the Eastern Ghats, the vast eco-region harbours unique floral and faunal wealth. Within an area of about 5520 sq. km, there are as many as six protected areas including the sanctuary complex of Wynad, Nagarhole, Bandipur, Mudumalai, Mukurthi, the Upper Nilgiri Plateau, Silent valley, Siruvani Hills and the entire forested slopes of Nilambur. The large contiguous extent of forest has the highest density of protected areas in the entire nation. The total area of the biosphere reserve is 5520 sq. km., of which 1240 sq. km (22.4 %) is the core zone, 3239 sq. km. (58.6%) is the manipulation zone (forestry), 335 sq. km. (6.06%) as manipulation zone (agriculture) and 706 sq. km (12.78%) as the restoration zone. (Daniel, 1996)

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve completely encircles the massive Nilgiri Plateau and extends over wide and diverse ecological, geological, cultural, climatic and geographic zonations. Due to enormous diversity, there have thrived distinctive forest types and numerous endemic species. The Reserve includes within its area parts of two of the twelve biogeographical zones of India (The Malabar rainforest and Deccan Thorn forest) and as a result encompasses within it a wide spectrum of spectacular species and ecosystems.

The NBR includes all the important forest types that are found in South India such as Tropical Thorn Forest, Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests, Tropical Moist Deciduous forests, Tropical Semi Evergreen forests, Sub Tropical Broad Leaved Forests, Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, Southern Montane Wet Temperate Forests, Southern Montane Wet Grasslands and Subtropical Hill Savannas.

The Nilgiris lends its name to the first designated Biosphere Reserve of India that established in the year 1986 upon the proposal of UNESCO through its Man and Biosphere Programme.The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was identified as being representative of the biogeographical zone of the Western Ghats and the setting up of the reserve aimed at conserving large tracts, rich in biodiversity and to promote sustainable use of resources.

The reserve was set up on 1.9.86 vide order number J.22010/6/86.CSC, Government of India. The NBR is located in southwest India, north of the Palghat Gap between 10 45’-12 5’N latitude and 76 10’-77 10’ E longitude.

The 5520 sq. km. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) lies at the trijunction of the three southern states of India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. As the Western Ghats extends southwards, the NBR appears as a contiguous unit of dense forests and wide-ranging landscape. Encompassing high hills, wide plateaus and undulating features, NBR includes the towering Nilgiri Hills that extend into the north and south with a number of off shoot ranges. The south-west slopes are steep, while on the eastern side, the slopes are relatively gentle. The northern parts of the reserve extend into the Mysore plateau and the southern tail form relatively smaller hills in the west of the Coimbatore plains. The highest elevations of the NBR are over 2500 metres above sea level (MSL) and the lowest below 400 MSl. ‘The NBR is biogeographically part of the Indo-Malayan realm and an appropriate representative of the topographic and climatic complexity of the Western Ghats – biodiversity ‘hot-spot’ in India’ (Daniel, 1996).

NBR includes two of the ten bio-geographical zones of India. It represents one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots with more than 3700 plant species and 684 vertebrate species, of which 156 are endemic (Daniel, 1996). The Palghat Gap separates NBR from the southern Western Ghats that touch the southern extremity of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.  It is at Kanyakumari that these ranges, alternatively called the Sahyadris, Nilgiris, Anaimalais and Asastyamalai, end almost opon the sea front, completing its journey of more than 1600 km from the Tapti river in Gujarat to the sea front of the Indian ocean.

The richness of the Biosphere Reserve has attracted several adventurers, researchers, scientists, anthropologists as well as plunderers of the varied wealth that the Nilgiris bestows. There has been much chang over the past decades since independence and large tracts of forested hills have been ruthlessly exploited much of the original land use altered and dams built over free flowing rivers. Severe demography changes over the years have disbalanced the equations between the indigenous people and migrants. NBR today, is a region in flux.

Why was the Biosphere Created?

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was established mainly to fulfill the following objectives:

  • To conserve in situ genetic diversity of species
  • To restore degraded ecosystems to their natural conditions
  • To provide baseline data for ecological and environmental research and education
  • To function as an alternate model for sustainable development

Forest Divisions

The entire land area stretches acroos more than eight revenue districts and forms the largest contiguous patch of protected forest in the nation. These forests though rich and diverse are also irrevocably transforming into a protected island. Human pressures from all sides, be it in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Kerala are pusing the forest and animals deeper inside these protected zones. The concern of proper management of reserve forests is also urgent for they do not receive the level of protection as received by the protected zones. These large forests, if transformed into an island are likely to suffer immensely because of the complete stoppage of flow of biodiversity between different types and locations of forests. The region is divided into core, manipulation and restoration zones that signify management regimes of protection, forestry operations and regeneration of degraded forests.  The core zone largely comprises of the most protected parts of the six protected areas and parts of the Nilgiri Eastern ghats and Minchkuli region of Sathyamanagalam forests. A large part of the reserve is classified as manipulation zones that is a threat if logging operations are allowed in future, te restoration zones is mostly restricted to the Attapady forests that have suffered the relentless onslaught of man in the previous decades. Presently, the management of the Nilgiri Bioshphere is under the respective jurisdiction of the the state governments and the classifications of core, manipulation and restoration also under their management. The region is divided into the following forest divisions-

  • Coimbatore Division
  • Nilgiri South Division
  • Erode Division
  • Nilgiri North Division
  • Satyamangalam Division
  • Nilambur Division
  • Mudumalai Sanctuary
  • Wynad Division
  • Palghat Division
  • Chamrajnagar Division
  • Project Tiger Bandipur
  • Mysore Division
  • Hunsur Division

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