An enthusiastic conservation effort that was thwarted for want of funds, was finally converted into an eco-tourism centre through people’s participation
The entrance to the Gudalur Gene Pool Garden in Tamil Nadu. Photo: V Sundararaju
The Gene Pool Garden was established in 1989 under the Hill Area Development Programme at Nadugani in the Gudalur forest division, about 62 km from Udhagamandalam, Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
Nadugani is located in the Western Ghats, one of the 25 biological diversity hotspots of the world. As such, this area was once a repository of rich flora and fauna which are endemic to the Western Ghats.
The centre is spread across 242 hectares in Nadugani forest, at a distance of about 12 km from Gudalur. The average annual rainfall received here is about 2,860 millimetres, both from the southwest and northeast monsoons. The tropical climate that prevails here with the coarse loamy soil, along with the rainfall, makes the area one of the richest in biodiversity.
This tract was endowed with virgin and pristine forests and faunal populations. But, due to pressure exerted by the ever-expanding human population, many of the floral and faunal species have been driven to the verge of extinction.
It was then that a need for the creation of such a plant conservation centre was felt and finally, this centre was established.
The Gene Pool Garden was created with the following objectives: In situ conservation of available endemic plant species; ex situ conservation of rare, endangered and threatened plant species; reintroduction and recovery of endangered plant species; propagation of fast disappearing plant species and education, research and awareness.
The Gene Pool Garden was thus functioning both as an in situ and ex situ conservation centre, conserving and propagating the existing plant species which are endemic to the Western Ghats. About 1,500 plant species had been assembled both, from the Western and the Eastern Ghats.
The plant species collected from various parts had been assembled under different zones for easy identification. These included thalophytes, hydrophytes, orchids, minor forest produce, medicinal plants, ferns, bamboo, grass, canes and reeds, timber species, palms, shola species, xerophytes and mesophytes.
Subsequently, after nearly two decades, the centre could not be managed properly for want of funds, resulting in a state of neglect.
At this point of time, it was decided to develop the centre as an eco-tourism spot. This was because it commanded a panoramic view of the rolling hills and grasslands surrounding the Gudalur region and provided opportunities for observing tigers, elephants, deer and leopards, in addition to plants that are endemic to the region.
Fortunately, the administration had built two viewpoints commanding a good view of the surrounding hills and valleys. The Fern Garden, Orchid Zone, Medicinal Plant Zone and an Interpretation Centre have been improved upon. The tourists will be allowed to undertake trekking, bicycling and other activities with the idea of creating awareness among them about the ecology of the Nilgiris. The tourists will be charged Rs 30 as entry fee.
The forest department is managing the centre through the Eco-Development Committee (EDC) formed with the involvement of the local Paniya tribal community of the nearby Kozhikolli village. The tribal community has been made in-charge of the cafeteria and other shops. The indigenous community will be benefited economically through the EDC. The EDC will ensure regular income and the same will be shared equitably among the community members.
It is hoped that a large number of tourists from Kerala who visit the Nilgiris through Gudalur, may pay a visit to this centre also.
Participatory forest management with the involvement of forest stakeholders will be a real success in managing a special project like this. In recent years, wherever eco-tourism centres have been established in the forest areas of Tamil Nadu, they have managed successfully by involving the forest dependents of nearby hamlets or villages.
The failure on the part of the forest department in managing the plant conservation centre through the traditional method was overcome by the joint forest management model. This is a clear indication that forests can no longer be managed through Acts and Rules alone.
Managing natural resources through people’s participation is the right way forward. May be other states can take a leaf out of Tamil Nadu’s book too.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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