Crowded out

god's own country is on the brink of a biodiversity disaster. A third of Kerala's flora and fauna faces the threat of extinction by 2030 due to the high density of human population. This grim scenario is depicted in the state planning board's Economic Review, 2003.

The report observes that at 819 people per square kilometre, Kerala is the most densely populated state in the country. It is also the home of hundreds of endemic and rare, endangered or threatened (ret) plant and animal species. The review recommends a conservation strategy for the state as proposed by the French Institute of Pondicherry, a consultant to the Kerala forestry project.

"Ecologically sensitive areas have to be identified with reference to topography and hydrological regimes, and this has to be networked with species diversity,' it suggests. The document also lists obstacles like undervaluation of natural resources, exploitation of biological and genetic resources for profit, poor knowledge of species and ecosystems, insufficient use of applied management practices and tunnel vision of conservationists.

Biodiversity experts and environmentalists feel that the focus should be on involving people at the grassroots to tackle the menace. "What the state needs to do on a war footing is carry out a thorough biodiversity survey through panchayats,' points out environmentalist M K Prasad. To be sure, the role of local self-governments and the masses in the conservation work has been mentioned in the review. However, experts allege that such ideas have not been translated into action in the past.

Kerala is host to most of the Western Ghats' flowering plants and vertebrate fauna. As many as 10,035 plant species are found here. Apart from this, there are 102 species of mammals, 476 of birds, 169 of reptiles, 89 of amphibians and 202 of freshwater fish.

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