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Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve in UNESCO List
Mar 30, 2016

On International Forests Day, out of India’s 18 biosphere reserves, Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve, the tenth one, has been included in the prestigious UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Network.

Key Features

  • Resting half in Kerala and half in Tamil Nadu along the Western Ghats, the reserve is a perfect example of India’s success in preserving and maintaining a forest biosphere.

  • It covers about 3500 square kilometres, and is part of Tirunalveli and Kankyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Patanamthitta in Kerala.

  • Agastyamala, the peak after which the reserve is named, rises up to almost 1868 metres above sea level.

  • With roaring waterfalls, thick green covers, sparkling streams, and chilly atmosphere, parts of the Agasthyamala Reserve are also tourist spots.

  • Humans are allowed only in the buffer zone of the reserve.

  • The peak, which is a two-day trek, is located in the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, and is also a popular pilgrimage spot.

  • The forest department allows trekking to the peak only in the months of January and February.

  • A limit of 100 people a day is also kept to ensure that the routes aren’t clogged.

Other Important Features

  • Almost 1/4th of all of India’s plant species are found here. The reserve consists of mainly tropical forests, home to over 2000 species of plants, of which 400 are native. Most of these are medicinal plants, while 50 species are endangered.

  • Arogyapacha, a medicinal herb used by tribals, is available in plenty here. Tribal settlements within the 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 Agasthyamala 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.

  • The lush forests provides for three wildlife sanctuaries within the reserve, Shendurney, Peppara, and Neyyar. The Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve was recently included as part of the biosphere reserve. Being Tamil Nadu’s first tiger reserve, it is also one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. Besides the eponymous tigers, the reserve is also home to Asiatic elephants, Indian bisons, leopards, various species of bats, and over 200 species of birds.

The UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves are exemplary of biospheres where people and nature have a harmonious relationship. The first of India’s reserves to make it to UNESCO’s list was Tamil Nadu’s Niligiri Biosphere Reserve in 2000. Besides this, West Bengal’s tiger-territory Sunderbans, Meghalaya’s Nokrek (home to the red panda) and the Great Nicobar (known for its saltwater crocodiles) have been included in the Network over the years.


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