Wildlife & Biodiversity

Odisha government proposes state’s second biosphere reserve at Mahendragiri

The Mahendragiri hills host a rich biodiversity of fauna and flora and are part of the Eastern Ghats

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Tuesday 30 March 2021
Twenty-nine of the 41 species of threatened medicinal plants found in Odisha are found in Mahendragiri. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

The Odisha government has proposed a second biosphere reserve in the southern part of the state at Mahendragiri, a hill ecosystem having rich biodiversity.

The 5,569-square kilometre Similipal Biosphere Reserve is Odisha’s first such reserve and was notified May 20, 1996.

The area of the proposed Mahendragiri Biosphere Reserve is around 470,955 hectares and is spread over Gajapati and Ganjam districts in the Eastern Ghats.

The hill ecosystem acts as a transitional zone between the flora and fauna of southern India and the Himalayas, making the region an ecological estuary of genetic diversities. This is according to a feasibility report prepared by the Biosphere Reserve Committee for the proposed project.

“We have already submitted the feasibility report to the government. It will take up the matter with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,” Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Shashi Paul, said.

Several environmentalists had recently urged the Odisha government to send an urgent proposal to the Centre to declare Mahendragiri a biosphere reserve. They had done so at a workshop titled Integrated Development of Mahendragiri Hill Complex organised by the Orissa Environmental Society, a non-profit.

“A biosphere reserve in Mahendragiri is urgently needed for the conservation of the landscape, ecosystems, rare and threatened plant species in the hill system, which is now under severe degradation,” SN Patra, president of Orissa Environmental Society.

Once the protected archeological remains of Mahendragiri were listed in the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage Sites, it would be easy to declare the spot as one, Patra said. 

He said almost all criteria to accord Mahendragiri the status of a biosphere reserve had been completed. The state should now submit its proposal to the Centre, he added.

Mahendragiri is inhabited by the Soura people, a particularly vulnerable tribal group as well as the Kandha tribe. 

The hills have diverse vegetation, according to the report of the proposed Mahendragiri Biosphere Reserve. The rich flora in Mahendragiri represents 40 per cent of the reported flora of Odisha, with around 1,358 species of plants.

Twenty-nine of the 41 species of threatened medicinal plants found in Odisha according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are found in the biosphere reserve area, according to the report.

The faunal diversity of the hills consists of 388 species of animals, including 27 species of mammals, 165 species of birds, 23 species of snakes, 15 species of amphibians, three species of turtles and 19 lizards.

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