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Ecological Heritage Sites of Chennai - Scrub Jungles

The ecological heritage sites in Chennai are classified into five broad categories, according to the vegetation types and natural resources - scrub jungles being one of them. Scrub jungles are home to diverse and fragile biological organisms. There are five sites that come under this category and these include the Guindy National Park, IIT Campus, Theosophical Society Campus, Madras Christian College Campus and Kattupalli Island in Chennai.

Guindy National Park   


It is situated in the southwestern corner of Chennai and has an area of 270 hectares.  It is the last surviving habitat of the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest type of the Coromandel Coast. According to Banerjee (1999), it is a representative of the natural thorny scrub jungle of the southern dry zone, comprising 350 species of plants including trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and grasses. Trees such as Annona squamosa, Feronia limon, Azadirachta indica, Cassia fistula, Santalum album, Mangifera indica, Tamarindus indica, Tectona grandis, Ficus benghalensis, Cassia siamea, Cassia marginata, Borassus flabellifer, Anacardium occidentale, Swietinea    mahagoni; shrubs such as Atlantia monophylla, Clausena dentate, Glycosmis cochinsinensis, Randia dumetorum, Randia malabarica, Cassia auriculata and Carissa spinarum; climbers such as Tinospora cordifolia, Cissus quadrangularis and Abrus precatorius and Drosera burmanii (the insect eating plant) are worth mentioning.

Guindy National Park

Lianes - scrub jungle in IIT Campus, Chennai.

There is a great diversity of flora and fauna within the Guindy National Park. The main attraction of the park is the presence of the Indian Antelope, commonly called “Blackbuck”. Other mammals such as the elephant, antelope, spotted deer, jungle cat, toddy cat and Indian civet are also found here. 37 varieties of birds including the kingfisher, blue jay, golden backed woodpecker, crow pheasant, yellow wattled lapwing, red wattled lapwing, blue faced malkoha, shrikes, koels, doves, minivets, munias, barkets, parakeets, grey partridge, tailor birds, robins, drongos, quails, paradise flycatcher, stone curlew, etc., are found here. Reptiles such as cobra, krait, russell’s viper, tortoises and turtles, lizards, geckos, chameleons and the common Indian monitor can be commonly seen. Invertebrates such as worms, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, butterflies, bugs, grasshoppers, scorpions and crabs are also found.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus

According to an earlier survey on “Biodiversity study - An Environmental approach at IIT campus, Chennai”, by C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, the vegetation type of the campus comes under Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest type. It is an ideal example for the coexistence of various types of mini ecosystems and these include open grasslands, wetlands, thick forest patches and patches of scrub jungles. There are about 80 different species of trees, of which 35 of them are native. Over 28 species of shrubs and herbs and 10 species of climbers are found here. These thickets are home to the blackbuck, spotted deer, jackals, mongooses, monkeys, squirrels, toddy cats, wild cats, various types of reptiles, 20 different species of insects, 40 different species of butterflies and about 100 species of birds. The campus attracts large groups of migratory birds and butterflies every year. There are about 100 species of birds seen at different times of the year. While quite a number of species are residents, few migrants like forest wagtail, pied crested cuckoo, golden oriole, etc., which are migratory are a treat to watch.

Theosophical Society campus

It was shifted from Bombay to Madras in 1882 within an area of 28 acres of wooded land, on the southern bank of the River Adyar. The campus is a natural scientist’s delight with its various gardens and wooded areas which are a haven for a number of migratory birds, including the pink flamingo and other forms of wild life such as lizards, snakes, jackals, wild cats, mongooses and hares. Apart from various woods there is an avenue of mahogany trees (Swietinea mahagoni). The campus has the most impressive botanical wonder - “Aala Maram” or the “Great Banyan Tree” - a 450 year old tree with a circumference of 251.65 metres, roots at a height of 12.2 metres and a huge canopy of leafy branches that throw down hundreds of aerial roots with an area of 4,670 sq.m.

Madras Christian College campus

At the 363 acre MCC campus adjacent to the Vandalur Reserve Forest, the habitat diversity includes wildlife such as antelope, blacknaped hare, common mongoose, jackal, jungle cat, monitor lizard and a variety of snakes besides 140 species of birds. Porcupines, striped hyena, small Indian civet, toddy cat, binturong, leopard cats and pangolins are found occasionally. The vegetation type of the campus is similar to that of the IIT campus.

Kattupalli Island

It is situated on the Coromandel Coast, bordered by the Ennore creek in the south, the Pulicat Lake and the Buckingham canal on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east. It is about 14 km long from south to north and about 1.25 km to 2.25 km wide from east to west and the area of this island is about 18 sq.km. The vegetation type consists of a rare combination of mangroves, halophytic salt marsh, psammophytic beach, tropical dry evergreen and aquatic habitat. There are 290 flowering plant species belonging to 210 genera and 82 families, 1 pteridophyte and 9 aquatic algae. The most striking feature in this island is the presence of 4 individuals of Diospyros malabarica that are 600 years old. This species of mangrove is not found anywhere else along the east coast. The faunal wealth of this island includes mammals like jackals, wild boar, rabbits, jungle cats, reptiles such as scorpions, lizards, snakes and the endangered Olive Ridley Sea turtles, besides an abundance of water birds and butterflies (Sanjeeva Raj, 2002). The island is unique for its multi-ecosystems, such as the in-shore, beach, sand dunes, scrub jungles, brackish water, mangrove and agricultural ecosystem.

Conclusion

The ecological history of the region (Coromandal coast) is the important reason behind the rich biodiversity found in these areas. However, these ecosystems are being threatened due to various unsustainable developmental activities. The Ennore Satellite Port and a petrochemical complex being constructed in the area are progressively damaging the Pulicat ecosystem, specifically the Katupalli Island. The North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTP) lets out hot water into the Buckingham canal and discharges toxic fly ash in the form of slurry, resulting in siltation in the lagoon ecosystem. Urbanisation, industrialisation, dumping of solid waste, discharging of untreated sewage and encroachments have added to the woes.

Scrub jungles are a habitat for several flora and fauna. They are home to diverse and fragile living organisms. They help birds and animals to breed and also help in propagating plants and increasing the green cover. The Guindy National Park, IIT campus, Theosophical Society campus, Madras Christian College campus and Kattupalli Island in Chennai have been identified as Ecologically Sensitive Sites. The Government should take necessary action against any anti-developmental activities in these ecologically sensitive areas and protect such valuable ecosystems in the city.

References:

  • Banerjee, M., Guindy National Park - The Lung of Chennai, Wildlife Division, Tamilnadu Forest Department, Chennai, 1999
  • Sanjeeva Raj, P.J., Plea for eco-heritage site - develop Kaattuppalli as one, Madras Musings, August 16 - 31, 2002
  • Biodiversity Study - An Environmental Approach at IIT Campus, Chennai, C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, Chennai, 2001

M. Amirthalingam
CPREEC

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