Exploring treasures of Eastern Ghats at Visakhapatnam's biodiversity centre

One of the centre's standout features is the Nature Information Centre, otherwise described as a ‘walking library’.
A tribal woman working at the processing unit in the Biodiversity Centre
A tribal woman working at the processing unit in the Biodiversity CentrePhoto | G Satyanarayana

VISAKHAPATNAM: The Eastern Ghats, a mountain range stretching through Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu while skirting parts of Karnataka and Telangana, is home to a rich and diverse ecosystem. Despite not enjoying the same fame as the Western Ghats, this range boasts an impressive variety of flora and fauna, making it a vital area for conservation and study. At the heart of efforts to increase awareness and understanding of this unique landscape is the Eastern Ghats Biodiversity Centre in Visakhapatnam.

Located within the Kambalakonda Reserve Forests, the centre spans 30 acres and has been transformed from a small nursery into a hub of ecological education and preservation by the Visakhapatnam Forest Department. The project is a brain child of Vizag DFO Anant Shankar, Sub DFO Dharmar Akshith, and FRO Ram Naresh. The centre includes several parks, such as Aushadhavanam, Karthik Vanam, and Rashi Vanam, each offering distinct insights into the biodiversity of the region. The centre is primarily managed by Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary project officer Yagnapathy Adari and marine biologist Sri Chakra Pranav.

One of the centre's standout features is the Nature Information Centre, otherwise described as a ‘walking library’. From detailed maps and educational panels to creative art displays, the centre offers a comprehensive look at the region's natural wonders. Visitors can explore sections dedicated to various aspects of the Eastern Ghats, including wetlands, marine life, and butterfly species, all presented in both English and Telugu.

A highlight of the Nature Information Centre is its ground floor, which features displays on four of the endangered species of the Eastern Ghats: the Indian pangolin, Mysore slender loris, Jerdon's courser, and Jeypore ground gecko. Another section is a detailed mangrove ecosystem replica which emphasises the critical role of mangroves in protecting the Andhra Pradesh coast from storms and cyclones.

Another section is dedicated to the forests of the Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary. For those interested in subterranean ecosystems, the centre has a small cave section that offers an experience with replicas of cave formations. This exhibit highlights the survival strategies of cave-dwelling species in environments devoid of light.

In addition to its educational exhibits, the centre includes a forest produce processing unit that engages tribal women from Visakhapatnam's only tribal village, Sambhuvanipalem. This unit transforms raw materials into eco-friendly products, such as plant pots, pottery, bamboo crafts, natural dye art, and Dhokra art, thereby creating pieces of sustainable art and jewellery, bags, and other items.

Recently, the Visakhapatnam Forest Division partnered with Amazon India under the Karigar programme, aiming to enhance the visibility and revenue generation of these forest products crafted by tribal artisans. Kamal Welfare Foundation also pitched in and donated machines for the unit.

Not to be missed is the orchidarium at the biodiversity centre, which stands out in its own right. This scientifically designed facility is the first-of-its-kind in Andhra Pradesh, showcasing a vibrant ecosystem of orchids. The enclosed dome structure features an automated mist chamber and houses a variety of species of flowers, with a special focus on those found in the Eastern Ghats.

Visitors can marvel at various species of orchids native to the Eastern Ghats, including the Cooktown orchid, Moon orchid, Dancing lady orchid, and several varieties of Vanda orchids. Key varieties on display include Vanda, Dracaena (Laceleaf), Cymbidium (Boat orchid), Phalaenopsis (Moth orchids), and Tolumnia, with multiple species within each group, including various hybrids.

Additionally, as part of the conservation efforts for native plants, seeds from various species collected from the forests of neighbouring districts are being raised at the nursery. These plants are either distributed to the public or used for plantation purposes.

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