Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kerala to name crocodile park after Steve Irwin

What’s common between Steve Irwin, the conservationist who died while documenting stingray, and the South Indian State of Kerala? Loads of concern for nature and its preservation.

To mark this perpetual bond, Kerala has decided to name a crocodile park in the Capital city of Thiruvananthapuram after Steve.

“The Australian Steve, a great entertainer, environmentalist and conservationist, had won our hearts in this part of the globe. The distance should not stand in the way of commemorating his legacy”, said State Forest Minister Benoy Viswom, addressing the valedictory of the fourth world congress on mountain ungulates here yesterday. Ungulates are hoofed mammals and several subspecies have branched off in the course of evolution. Mountain ungulates, the focus of the congress, are typically herbivorous, quadrupeds such as Nilgiri tahr, camel, hippopotamus or horse.

The ungulate conference has also come at a time when the people on the hills here celebrate the once-in-12-year flowering of the neelakurinji (strobilanthes kunthianum), a grassland shrub endemic to the Western Ghats. The minister declared the flower would be honored with a two-day Kurinji festival on October 7 and 8. He had already announced the plan to set up a kurinji sanctuary so that when it blooms 12 years later, in 2018, it would cast its azure spell on a much larger tract.

The flowers are found at an altitude of between 1,600 and 2,400 metres. Earlier,vast areas of this region were being converted into eucalyptus plantations by the government. But timely action was taken to protect the area and it was officially thrown open to visitors for the first time in 1994. More than 3 lakh visitors have since witnessed the phenomenon.

The four-day congress, sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and the High Range Wildlife and Environment Preservation Association (HRWEPA), presented five recommendations to protect the mascot ungulate of the Western Ghats, the Nilgiri tahr.

Eravikulam National Park, covering 97 sq km, in Munnar, is home to the once-endangered ungulate, the Nilgiri tahr.

Extending the national park limits to the ecological boundary of Nilgiri tahr population— by another 30 sq km — and establishing protected and functional corridors between isolated tahr populations in the Western Ghats are two major recommendations.The other recommendations are “explore possibilities for the re-induction of tahr into parts of its historical range from where it has been extirpated, develop a protocol for monitoring tahr populations and habitats and evaluate the ecological impact of tourism and fire in the national park and ensure forestry, tourism and other activities in the tahr landscape respect conservation measures to protect the goat and its habitats”.

George Schaller, Clifford G Rice, Marco Festa-Blanchet and Lovari Sandro were among experts who attended the conference.

Several papers on issues related to conservation, management, ecology and biology of mountain ungulates were presented at the congress by experts from 20 countries, including UAE, Oman and Iran.


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