India’s protected greens

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On the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), we explore four of the 18 breathtaking biosphere reserves in the country

A national park or a biosphere reserve, a wildlife sanctuary or a botanical garden; these terms may seem like jargon while packing for a taste of the wilderness. But for nature lovers, each of them is a step towards saving our planet. And the mother of them all are the biosphere reserves, recognised by the Union government and the United Nations. While the official description says these are “areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognised within the framework of the Man and the Biosphere programme of the UNESCO”, we tell you why you should visit four of these protected green lands this summer.

Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve

With the onset of June, the gates of the beautiful Valley of Flowers National Park in Uttarakhand are thrown open to visitors. Spread over 87 sq km, this valley is renowned for its stunning endemic Alpine blossoms. From bright colonies of golden lilies and blue poppies to scarlet Himalayan cinquefoil and pretty viola pilosa, several species of flowers bloom here. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also one of the core zones of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. The unique topography, climate, soil and geographical location of this biosphere reserve make it an ideal home for diverse ecosystems, as well as a large number of ecologically and economically important species.

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve

In some parts of the Western Ghats, fireflies light up the forest during the summer months while in others, rainsoaked foliage witnesses a spectacular show of bioluminescence on account of a unique species of fungus. The magical Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve is also located in the Ghats, with peaks reaching 1,868 m above sea level. In fact, the reserve constitutes an important biogeographical hotspot in the Western Ghats. It is also home to three wildlife sanctuaries: Shendurney, Peppara and Neyyar.

The reserve, which hosts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Indian peninsula, comprises moist forests, tropical, evergreen and deciduous rainforests, plains and grasslands – all nourished generously by several rivers. Button quails, piculets, robins, warblers, larks and finches are some of the bird species found in the region. The reserve is also home to sloth bears, Nilgiri tahrs, spotted deer, Malabar giant squirrels, Indian pangolins, king cobras, pythons and monitor lizards.

Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve

The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve in Sikkim is home to Trans- Himalayan plant and animal life. But there is more to this scenic and calm reserve than meets the eye. It boasts one of the highest ecosystems in the world and covers a wide range of ecological regions (from sub-tropical to Arctic) ranging from 1,220 m to over 8,586 m above sea level.

The reserve comprises the East Himalayan sub-tropical broad leaf hill forest; East Himalayan sub- Alpine birch, fir and rhododendron forest; and Alpine pastures, to name a few. The area also offers spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, lakes and hot springs. A major highlight of the reserve is the Khangchendzonga National Park.

Panna Biosphere Reserve

Spotting a tiger is a matter of luck. Sometimes, you have to wait patiently before catching a glimpse of the animal, while on rare occasions, you get to spot one right away. And the experience of seeing a tiger at the Panna National Park is a particularly exciting prospect. The park takes pride of place at the Panna Biosphere Reserve, the third of its kind in the state. The reserve boasts rich biodiversity with 34 species of mammals. It is also home to over 280 species of birds and more than 1,000 species of plants. There is plenty to see and explore at this reserve, which houses three protected areas: the Panna National Park, the Gangau Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ken-Gharial Sanctuary.

Compiled by Shrabasti Mallik

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