Natural World Heritage Sites in India
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Western Ghats
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve falls within the Western Ghats system and portrays the confluence of Afro-tropical and Indo-Malayan biotic zones of the world. Major part of the core areas spread over Kerala and Tamil Nadu and includes evergreen, semi evergreen, moist deciduous montane sholas and grassland types of vegetation. The core area spread over the State of Karnataka contains mostly dry deciduous forests and a few patches of moist deciduous, semi evergreen and scrub jungles. These range from hilly terrain to the meadows extending from 2670 m to 300 m.
The region is noted for its rich biodiversity. It has about 3500 species of flowering plants, out of which 1500 are endemic to the Western Ghats. The fauna consists of over 100 species of mammals, 550 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles and amphibians, 300 species of butterflies, and a large number of invertebrates and many more species. The fauna includes the tiger, elephant, gaur, lion tail macaque, cheetal, sambar, wild boar, barking deer, Nilgiri tahr, etc.
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Uttarakhand
Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve is located in the Himalayan region and includes in its core areas, the Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks. Nanda Devi National Park has remained pristine because of its inaccessibility. The Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. Together they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya.
The Biosphere Reserve includes reserve forests, evamsoyam (civil) forests, panchayat (community) forests, agricultural land, grassy slopes, alpine meadows (bugiyals) and snow-covered areas. The alpine vegetation mainly comprises of herbaceous species and scrub communities such as Rhododendron campanulatum, R. anthopogon and Salix denticulata. These meadows harbour a large number of rare and endangered, native and endemic species.
This area has a large altitudinal range (1,800 to 7,817 m) and is dominated by the peak of Nanda Devi. The unique topography, climate, soil and biogeographical location of this Biosphere Reserve gives rise to diverse habitats, communities and ecosystems, and a large number of ecologically and economically important species. Some 1,000-plant species including lichens, fungi, bryophytes and pteridophytes have been recorded. The percentage of native and endemic species is high compared to non-native species. Over 55% of the species are native to Himalaya, over 10 are endemic and 225 are near endemic. Among these plant resources, the inhabitants of the Pindari, Lata-Tolma-Malari, and the Valley of Flowers areas use 224 species for various purposes such as medicine, food, and animal fodder.
Seven endangered mammal species find refuge in the area such as the snow leopard (Panthera unica), Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) and bharal/blue sheep (Pseudoisnayaur).
Over 15,000 people live in the Biosphere Reserve. The buffer zone includes 45 villages and the local communities living here mainly belong to two ethnic groups, the Indo-Mongoloid (Bhotia) and Indo-Aryan.
The transition area includes over 55 villages and is mostly inhabited by Schedule tribes, Schedule Castes Brahmins and Rajputs. The local communities practice marginal subsistence agriculture, rear cattle for milk and sheep for wool. Cultivation of medicinal plants, sheep farming, apiculture and horticulture are among the main income sources of the villagers. Local communities in the Lata-Tolma-Malari and Pindari areas are benefiting from the development of alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism, and from the improvement of a rich variety of agricultural activities. The snow clad peaks, presence of over 30 glaciers, occurrence of charismatic animals and birds, deep and vast valleys, meadows and rivers, and a unique culture of the native communities make the Biosphere Reserve ideal for ecotourism.
The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve
The Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is located in the Northeast of India on the Tura Range, which forms part of the Meghalaya Plateau (average altitude: 600 metres). The entire area is mountainous and Nokrek is the highest peak of the Garo hills, rising up 1,412 metres. The north of the reserve has gently undulating hills, while the south has steep slopes. The reserve contains major rivers and streams that form a perennial catchment system. Examples include the Ganol, Dareng and Simsang rivers, of which the latter is the longest and largest. The Simsang originates in the north of the Biosphere Reserve, the Dareng from the southern peaks, and the Ganol flows westward into the Brahamputra River, which supplies water to numerous towns.
Nokrek is the highest peak in West Garo Hills, and has a wide variety of rare plants and animals. The park covers an area of about 47 sq km and has abundant wildlife including herds of wild elephants, animal species like leopard, pangolin, hoolock gibbon, python, hornbill, besides rare orchids abound in the sanctuary. The endangered red panda can also be found here. One can also spot bird species like hornbill, peacock and pheasant. Other attractions are the Simsang River Game Reserve, Ronbang Dare Waterfalls and the Nokrek Peak.
The tropical climate is characterized by high humidity, monsoon rains (April–October) and high temperatures, which presents ideal circumstances for the growth of rich vegetation, and a unique and varied biodiversity. Evergreen and semi-evergreen deciduous forests dominate the landscape: 90% of the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is covered by evergreen forest. Some patches of bamboo forest can also be found in the lower altitudes, and a variety of endemic Citrus indica (Indian wild orange).
Representative species of the reserve include Cotton tree, Hairy Sterculia and Golden shower tree. Highly vulnerable and threatened fauna species in Nokrek include the Slow Loris, Giant flying squirreland Pig-tailed macaque. In addition, the reserve is home to other unique and endangered animals, such as tigers, leopards, elephants and Hoolock gibbons; the latter are the most endangered apes in India and therefore receive special protection.
Today, Garo tribes dominate the area. However, other tribes, such as the Banias or Hajjons, also exist in the area. The Garo refer to themselves as Achikmande (man of hills). While practising Christians, they believe in reincarnation and pray to several gods. Shifting cultivation is the principal and most important economic activity and this form of agriculture is practised on 17% of Nokrek’s area by 85% of the population. Local people rely on natural forest products such as timber, honey, and wax, while bananas, rice, cashew nuts and tea are the main commercial exports.
Archaeological findings prove that humans settled in the area during the lower Palaeolithic period of the middle Pleistocene Age. Agriculture and hunting were practised until the Neolithic period, when they were replaced by more efficient slash-and burn techniques and shifting cultivation.
Kaziranga National Park
Photocredit Dipankar Talukdar, Wikipedia
Kaziranga National Park lies partly in Golaghat District and partly in Nagaon District of Assam. It is the oldest park in Assam covers an area of 430 Sq kms along the river Brahmaputra on the North and the KarbiAnglong hills on the South. The National Highway 37 passes through the park area and tea estates, hemmed by table-top tea bushes. One can even see the rhinos and wild elephants straying near the highway.
Kaziranga National Park represents one of the last unmodified natural areas in the north-eastern region of India. Covering 42,996 ha, and located in the State of Assam it is the single largest undisturbed and representative area in the Brahmaputra Valley floodplain. The fluctuations of the Brahmaputra River result in spectacular examples of riverine and fluvial processes in this vast area of wet alluvial tall grassland interspersed with numerous broad shallow pools fringed with reeds and patches of deciduous to semi-evergreen woodlands. Kaziranga is regarded as one of the finest wildlife refuges in the world. The park’s contribution in saving the Indian one-horned rhinoceros from the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century to harbouring the single largest population of this species is a spectacular conservation achievement. The property also harbours significant populations of other threatened species including tigers, elephants, wild water buffalo and bears as well as aquatic species including the Ganges River dolphin. It is an important area for migratory birds.
River fluctuations by the Brahmaputra river system result in spectacular examples of riverine and fluvial processes. River bank erosion, sedimentation and formation of new lands as well as new water-bodies, plus succession between grasslands and woodlands represents outstanding examples of significant and ongoing, dynamic ecological and biological processes. Wet alluvial grasslands occupy nearly two-thirds of the park area and are maintained by annual flooding and burning. These natural processes create complexes of habitats which are also responsible for a diverse range of predator/prey relationships.
Kaziranga was inscribed for being the world’s major stronghold of the Indian one-horned rhino, having the single largest population of this species, currently estimated at over 2,000 animals. The property also provides habitat for a number of globally threatened species including tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, eastern swamp deer, Sambar deer, hog deer, capped langur, hoolock gibbon and sloth bear. The park has recorded one of the highest density of tiger in the country and has been declared a Tiger Reserve since 2007. The park’s location at the junction of the Australasia and Indo-Asian flyway means that the park’s wetlands play a crucial role for the conservation of globally threatened migratory bird species. The Endangered Ganges dolphin is also found in some of the closed oxbow lakes.
The park is open from November to April. Tourists can take rides on elephants to move around the park or cruise in a boat on the Brahmaputra along the park.
The Great Himalayan National Park
This National Park is located in the Banjaar subdivision of Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh in the western part of the Himalayan range.The Great It has high mountain peaks, alpine meadows and riverine forest. The Park includes the upper mountain glacial and snow meltwater sources of several rivers and the catchments. It is biodiversity hotspot and includes 25 forest types along with many threatened fauna species.
It is home to almost 350 species of flora and 800 species of fauna, some of which are endangered. The park shelters four of the world's threatened species of mammals (snow leopard, serow, the Himalayan tahr and musk deer) and three of the world's threatened bird species (Western tragopan, koklass, cheer pheasants). A large part of the park's green cover is composed of three varieties of oak – ban, mohru and kharsu.
References https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1406, https://www.incredibleindia.org, https://www.greathimalayannationalpark.org
The Khanchendzonga National Park
This National Park is located in Sikkim within the Himalayan range. The Park has a variety of terrain including plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and snow-capped mountains including the word’s third highest peak, Khanchendzonga. On the lower slopes the mountain range is forested, and many myths are associated with the caves, rivers, lakes, etc that are sacred to the indigenous people of Sikkim. These have been integrated with Buddhist beliefs and are part of their identity
World Heritage Site
Older than the Himalaya mountains, the mountain chain of the Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet. It also has an exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism and is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity. The forests of the site include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species.
The Western Ghats are internationally recognized as a region of immense global importance for the conservation of biological diversity, besides containing areas of high geological, cultural and aesthetic values. A chain of mountains running parallel to India’s western coast, approximately 30-50 km inland, the Ghats traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These mountains cover an area of around 140,000 km² in a 1,600 km long stretch that is interrupted only by the 30 km Palghat Gap at around 11°N.
The Outstanding Universal Value of the Western Ghats is manifested in the region’s unique and fascinating influence on large-scale biophysical and ecological processes over the entire Indian peninsula. The mountains of the Western Ghats and their characteristic montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather patterns that mediate the warm tropical climate of the region, presenting one of the best examples of the tropical monsoon system on the planet. The Ghats act as a key barrier, intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
A significant characteristic of the Western Ghats is the exceptionally high level of biological diversity and endemism. This mountain chain is recognized as one of the world’s eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity along with Sri Lanka. The forests of the Western Ghats include some of the best representatives of non equatorial tropical evergreen forests in the world. At least 325 globally threatened (IUCN Red Data List) species occur in the Western Ghats. The globally threatened flora and fauna in the Western Ghats are represented by 229 plant species, 31 mammal species, 15 bird species, 43 amphibian species, 5 reptile species and 1 fish species. Of the total 325 globally threatened species in the Western Ghats, 129 are classified as Vulnerable, 145 as Endangered and 51 as Critically Endangered.
The Western Ghats region demonstrates speciation related to the breakup of the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland in the early Jurassic period; secondly to the formation of India into an isolated landmass and the thirdly to the Indian landmass being pushed together with Eurasia. Together with favourable weather patterns and a high gradient being present in the Ghats, high speciation has resulted. The Western Ghats is an “Evolutionary Ecotone” illustrating “Out of Africa” and “Out of Asia” hypotheses on species dispersal and vicariance.
The Western Ghats contain exceptional levels of plant and animal diversity and endemicity for a continental area. In particular, the level of endemicity for some of the 4-5,000 plant species recorded in the Ghats is very high: of the nearly 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, 352 (54%) are endemic. Animal diversity is also exceptional, with amphibians (up to 179 species, 65% endemic), reptiles (157 species, 62% endemic), and fishes (219 species, 53% endemic). Invertebrate biodiversity, once better known, is likely also to be very high (with some 80% of tiger beetles endemic). A number of flagship mammals occur in the property, including parts of the single largest population of globally threatened ‘landscape’ species such as the Asian Elephant, Gaur and Tiger. Endangered species such as the lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr and Nilgiri Langur are unique to the area. The property is also key to the conservation of a number of threatened habitats, such as unique seasonally mass-flowering wildflower meadows, Shola forests and Myristica swamps.
The property is made up of 39 component parts grouped into 7 sub-clusters. The serial approach is justified in principle from a biodiversity perspective because all 39 components belong to the same biogeographic province, and remain as isolated remnants of previous contiguous forest. The justification for developing a serial approach rather than just identifying one large protected area to represent the biodiversity of the Western Ghats is due to the high degree of endemism, meaning that species composition from the very north of the mountains to 1,600km south varies greatly, and no one site could tell the story of the richness of these mountains. The formulation of this complex serial nomination has evolved through a consultative process drawing on scientific analysis from various sources. The 39 component parts grouped into 7 sub-clusters together reflect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and capture the range of biological diversity and species endemism in this vast landscape.
The 39 component parts of this serial property fall under a number of protection regimes, ranging from Tiger Reserves, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Reserved Forests. All components are owned by the State and are subject to stringent protection under laws including the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the Indian Forest Act of 1927, and the Forest Conservation Act (1980). Through these laws the components are under the control of the Forestry Department and the Chief Wildlife Warden, providing legal protection. 40% of the property lies outside of the formal protected area system, mostly in Reserved Forests, which are legally protected and effectively managed. The Forest Conservation Act (1980) provides the regulatory framework to protect them from infrastructure development.