Natural Heritage

Biosphere Reserves

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, Uttarakhand
nanda devi biosphere reserve

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


Nokrek National Park and 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.

Chilika Lake, Odisha

Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lake with estuarine character that sprawls along the east coast of India. It is considered to be the largest lagoon in India and counted amongst the largest lagoons in the world. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals inhabit the Lake area for atleast part of their life cycle. On account of its rich bio-diversity, Chilika lake was designated as a "Ramsar Site", i.e. a wetland of International Importance. The Nalaban Island within the lake is notified as a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The National Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs Committee of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, have also identified the lake as a priority site for conservation and management. The Lake is a highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources. The rich fishing grounds sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fisherfolk who live in and around the lake. It has a great heritage value and maritime trade to the far east countries used to take place from here.

It is also the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent and supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds from large parts of Asia, particularly during the winters that arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas to feed and breed in its fertile waters.

Criterion (ix): The Chilika lake is of estuarine character in an ephemeral environment. It has been indicated in the geological studies that in the Pleistocene era, the north-eastern region was lying under the sea and the coastline extended along the western shore of the lake. It is supported by the fact that the Konark Sun Temple which was originally built on the seashore is now about 3 km away from the coast. A fossil found on the south-western edge of the respect indicates the formation of the lake about 3500 to 4000 years ago.

The lake has several islands and form important habitat for the birds and animals. The hydrological system of the lake comprises of inflow of freshwater on a perennial basis from the Mahanadi river, and several rivers which are not perennial. On the east side the lake has the Bay of Bengal. The unique ecological system of the lake represents significant ongoing ecological and biological process and supports important communities of plant and animals on its freshwater coastal and marine ecosystem.

Criterion (x): Chilika lake is a assemblage of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem, that support amazing biodiversity. It is a home to highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. As per the 2013 census, about 150 dolphins are found here and is, therefore, considered as the largest lagoon supported population of the World. It is the largest wintering ground of migratory birds in Indian sub-continent and support about 225 species at different part of their life cycle. The rich fish fauna comprising of about 317 species sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fishermen.

The health of the ecosystem as per the assessment made by Chilika Development Authority in collaboration with Maryland University, USA, is considered as excellent. The sea grass meadows of the lake are expanding in spite of anthropogenic pressure, which is a sign of healthy ecosystem. Thus the lake contains the most important and significant actual habitat for in situ conservation of biological diversity including rare species of birds and animals. Thus it is an outstanding example representing significant ecological and biological process in evolution of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem.

The lake is a unique habitat that comprises of Marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem and supports any biodiversity comprising of birds and aquatic animals. The migratory birds of the lake are protected under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the part of the lake comprising important habitat has been notified as a Sanctuary for protection of the migratory birds. The lake is also regulated under Coastal Regulation Zone Notification – 2011. The lake has also been designated as a Ramsar site since 1981.


Kaziranga National Park


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

Manas National Park


Manas National Park

Photocredit Kishore Rao,UNESCO

Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the State of Assam in North-East India, a biodiversity hotspot. Covering an area of 39,100 hectares, it spans the Manas river and is bounded to the north by the forests of Bhutan. The Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the core zone of the 283,700 hectares Manas Tiger Reserve, and lies alongside the shifting river channels of the Manas River. The site’s scenic beauty includes a range of forested hills, alluvial grasslands and tropical evergreen forests. The site provides critical and viable habitats for rare and endangered species, including tiger, greater one-horned rhino, swamp deer, pygmy hog and Bengal florican. Manas has exceptional importance within the Indian sub-continent’s protected areas, as one of the most significant remaining natural areas in the region, where sizeable populations of a large number of threatened species continue to survive.


Sunderbans National Park


sunderban national park

The Sundarbans covers 10,000 km2 of land and water (more than half of it in India, the rest in Bangladesh) in the Ganges delta. A number of rare or endangered species live in the park, including tigers, aquatic mammals, birds and reptiles.
The Sundarbans contain the world's largest mangrove forests and one of the most biologically productive of all natural ecosystems. Located at the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers between India and Bangladesh, its forest and waterways support a wide range of fauna including a number of species threatened with extinction. The mangrove habitat supports the single largest population of tigers in the world which have adapted to an almost amphibious life, being capable of swimming for long distances and feeding on fish, crab and water monitor lizards. They are also renowned for being “man-eaters”, most probably due to their relatively high frequency of encounters with local people.

The islands are also of great economic importance as a storm barrier, shore stabiliser, nutrient and sediment trap, a source of timber and natural resources, and support a wide variety of aquatic, benthic and terrestrial organisms. They are an excellent example of the ecological processes of monsoon rain flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonisation. Covering 133,010 ha, the area is estimated to comprise about 55% forest land and 45% wetlands in the form of tidal rivers, creeks, canals and vast estuarine mouths of the river. About 66% of the entire mangrove forest area is estimated to occur in Bangladesh, with the remaining 34% in India.


The Great Himalayan National 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.

The Khanchendzonga National Park


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.


Western Ghats 

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.