The northeast may still look lush green and Andamans pristine, but in the wilderness of India’s biodiversity hotspots, not everything is fine. Habitat loss due to deforestation and human encroachment is silently pushing hundreds of tree and plant species to the brink.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has put 45 tree species across India on its “Red List of Threatened Plant Species 2007” as being “critically endangered”. It has flagged 247 tree species from the country as “threatened”. IUCN is the biggest conservation body with 83 member countries.
The ilex khasiana, a high-altitude tree found only in Meghalaya, has run into its last generation. There are just four left in a small area, mostly confined to Shillong Peak, the list says.
The IUCN’s “critically endangered” list is for species facing an “extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future”. It says trees like ilex khasiana may vanish because of “poor regeneration and habitat decline”.
“Indian animals facing extinction are widely talked about but hundreds of tree species are quietly slipping into extinction and nobody seems to care,” IUCN Species Survival Commission’s India member Vineet Soni told HT.
Many of the 247 species that face grave threat are being “overused” for medicinal or religious purposes without adequate conservation.
In the Nilgiri Hills, there’s a tree that goes by the name of actinodaphne lanata. The Red List says there is just one of it left.
Its habitat is the Shola forest, between 1,500 and 1,800 metres. In Andamans,
the syzygium manii, a semi-evergreen forest, faces a similar fate.
The threats: huge decline in both habitat because of logging and reproduction.
Asked to comment, Botanical Survey of India (BSI) director M. Sanjappa said from Kolkata that he disagreed the “critically endangered”
status accorded to two species: cycas beddomei and hildegardia populifolia, both from Andhra Pradesh. “They are well protected now," he claimed. Both these plants are widely used to treat dog bite.
Last year, the BSI recollected an extremely rare species after a gap of 65 years from Arunachal Pradesh. One species in the Northeast, bogania, had become extinct when large scale felling took place to create space for tea gardens. There are no records for many species feared extinct since 2000.
Intensification of search for some of the extremely rare plant species in their known localities by the BSI has led in the rediscovery of species like Belosynapsis kewensis, Byrsophyllum tetrandrum, Claoxylon hirsutum and Didymocarpus missionis. Some even after more than hundred years since type collection.