Fostering linkages between culture biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods of KMTR


Tirunelveli-Thoothukudi districts boast of the iconic ‘Biodiversity hotspot’ Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, home to many unique and threatened species of plants and animals of the Western Ghats, in addition to the Vallanadu Blackbuck Sanctuary, Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary and Thirupudaimaruthur Conservation Reserve. Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), the southernmost tiger habitat, covers a staggering area of 895 sq. km and is part of a biologically rich hill range of Agasthyamalai in the global biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats. The major perennial river Tamiraparani flowing through the districts originates in the Agasthyamalai mountains of Western Ghats. This river, its tributaries and the ancient network of canals in the region has created a unique wetland ecosystem outside the forest area that supports critical biodiversity pockets in a rapidly developing area with high human population density. The need is to equitably manage these areas for supporting biodiversity and human well-being.

ATREE, through its Agasthyamalai Community-based Conservation Centre at Manimuthar, has been working in the region for the last three decades trying to understand the changes in the forests, wetland and grasslands due to various natural and anthropogenic causes. While forests are all under the state control, the larger landscape outside are under various stakeholders and conserving biodiversity in such a scenario is challenging, requiring long-term, place-based conservation initiatives, including extended engagement with the state.

Our project will draw impetus from our long-term research, such as sustainable religious tourism associated with the temple enclaves in KMTR, effects of climate on forest functioning and the outreach and conservation work on wetlands and grasslands in human-dominated landscapes, to set up models of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources through community and state participation. We will also identify, map and collate knowledge on sites that have natural and cultural linkages to broaden the scope of public involvement in conservation. In the current phase, we will demonstrate how the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources can be supported by a governance model, which involves multiple local stakeholders. Our focus will be largely on wetlands to start with, and build a replicable model with the help of communities and the cooperation of the state to conserve similar inland wetlands. We propose a multi-dimensional project aiming to build a community that will appreciate the value of nature and its conservation. We will, in the course of our project, engage with children using experiential learning and also with the youth and the older generation, enabling them to appreciate the value of the natural and cultural heritage of the landscape for their well-being.