Odisha has taken a significant step towards conservation by declaring the Gupteswar forest in Koraput district as its fourth Biodiversity Heritage Site (BHS). This declaration marks a pivotal moment in the state’s environmental conservation efforts, joining the ranks of Mandasaru, Mahendragiri, and Gandhamardan, which have previously been recognized for their unique biodiversity.
A Sacred Natural Treasure
Nestled adjacent to the revered Gupteswar Shiva temple within the Dhondrakhol reserve forest and under the Jeypore forest division, the Gupteswar forest spans over 350 hectares. This area is not just a haven for a wide array of flora and fauna but also holds a sacred significance, with its groves traditionally worshipped by the local community.
Rich Biodiversity at Gupteswar
The Odisha Biodiversity Board’s inventory and survey reveal an astounding diversity within this newly declared BHS. Home to 608 faunal species, the Gupteswar forest boasts 28 species of mammals, and 188 species of birds, along with a significant number of amphibians, reptiles, fishes, butterflies, moths, spiders, scorpions, and other lower invertebrates. Notably, the area is a habitat for significant species such as the mugger crocodile, Kanger Valley rock gecko, sacred grove bush frog, and various rare birds like the black baza and Malabar trogon.
A Haven for Bat Species
The limestone caves of Gupteswar are particularly notable for hosting eight out of the sixteen bat species found in southern Odisha. These caves add an essential ecological value to the site, contributing to its biodiversity richness and offering unique opportunities for scientific study and conservation.
Floral Diversity and Medicinal Plants
Gupteswar’s biodiversity is not limited to fauna; the site is also rich in floral diversity, encompassing 182 species of trees, 76 shrubs, 177 herbs, 69 climbers, and 14 orchids. Among its treasures are threatened medicinal plants like the Indian trumpet tree, Indian snake root, and a variety of wild crop relatives of ginger and turmeric. This rich plant diversity is crucial for conservation efforts, providing resources for research and the potential for sustainable use by local communities.
Conservation and Community Involvement
Recognizing the importance of the Gupteswar forest, the State government has embarked on a long-term plan for its intensive conservation and development. With an initial fund of ₹35 lakh allocated for the preparation of the action plan and awareness activities, the emphasis is on the direct participation of local communities. This approach acknowledges the integral role communities play in conservation efforts and aims to empower them in protecting and sustaining their natural heritage.
The Path Forward
The declaration of Gupteswar forest as a Biodiversity Heritage Site is a testament to Odisha’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage. It underscores the importance of recognizing and safeguarding areas of ecological significance, not only for their biodiversity but also for their cultural and spiritual value. As we move forward, the focus on community involvement and sustainable conservation practices will be key to ensuring the protection of this and other BHS for future generations. The Gupteswar forest stands as a beacon of biodiversity, inviting all to partake in its preservation and to marvel at the natural wonders it beholds.