[NEW DELHI] A global biodiversity hotspot in Tamil Nadu state in southern India is under pressure from human activity, according to a new study.
Conducted by the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation at the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru, Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology in Bhuj, western India, and the College of Environmental Sciences at Tajen University in Taiwan, the study will be published in the Journal for Natural Conservation.
Scientists from these institutes studied villages near the Mudumulai wildlife sanctuary, a tiger reserve and an elephant corridor falling in the Nilgiris biosphere reserve, one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots, spanning 5,520 square kilometres.
The study found that overgrazing by livestock, reared in nearby villages, has reduced the natural vegetation cover. Cattle dung, that might have served as natural manure and helped regeneration of forest vegetation, was collected for use as fuel.
India is home to the world’s largest domesticated bovine population at 294 million heads, and some of these graze in forests close to rural villages.
Trees along forest boundaries are also lopped for firewood, estimated at 2,000 tonnes each year. This reduces the numbers and diversity of grasses, herbs and woody plants that grow beneath the trees, giving way to weeds, the study showed.
Field reports indicate that severe habitat damage has also forced elephants to stray out of their traditional ranges and into nearby villages.
The study listed remedial measures that the government of Tamil Nadu state could undertake such as providing fodder to cattle-owners and subsidising supplies of alternate cooking fuel such as liquefied petroleum gas.
Govindasamy Agoramoorthy, distinguished research professor at Tajen University and one of the authors of the report, explained to SciDev.Net that "the (state) government should work with tribal people, spend money, give employment and manage the park wisely to protect biodiversity."
"In fact, the tribal people can manage the forests in India better than city-dwellers if they are given an opportunity," he observed.
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, an activist for the non-government organisation Campaign for Survival and Dignity, said that scientific studies should take into account indigenous knowledge of local forest communities and tribes, that helps preserve local biodiversity.
Madhu Sarin, a forest policy analyst who was involved in consultations over the framing of India’s 2006 Forest Rights Act, said "wherever forests were taken care of by tribals and forest dwellers, biodiversity has been safe."