The Forest Ecosystems and the Hills of God of the Kollihills
Forests are critically important habitats in terms of the biological diversity they contain and the ecological functions they serve. The number of described organisms of the world totals some 1.75 million species and it is suggested that it is just 13 per cent of the true total (Secretariat of the CBD, 2001). That is, the actual number of species may be 13.6 million. What fraction of this uncertain total lives in the forests of the Kollihills is quite unknown.
It is well known that perhaps half of all known species reside in tropical forests alone. It is also conjectured that the majority of yet-to-be discovered species are in tropical forests. This means that there could indeed be an enormous number of species that we deal with when we talk about the forests of the Kollihills. Whatever the precise number, forests of tropical areas such as the Kollihills are major locations for biological diversity.
The values of forests therefore embody the values of the biological diversity they contain since it seems unlikely that the vast majority of the biological resources could occupy non-forest habitats (Secretariat of the CBD, 2001). The need to understand the values that reside in forests arises also from the estimated rates of loss of forest area and, hence, in biological diversity. Loss rates, in fact, run into thousands per year.
Forests of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats (Kollihills inclusive) are continuously affected by large scale uncontrolled forest fires. Fires adversely impact on the forests worldwide, causing a loss of biological diversities in, and ecological services from, 20 million hectares. While fire is a vital and natural part of some of the forest ecosystems, and humans have used fires for thousands of years as land management tool, natural as well as man-made fires cause severe damage in the Kollihills. At any given time, there is a forest fire raging on the hills primarily because someone has been careless or he/she has been deliberate in setting fire to the forest. Human greed knows no bounds and the tribals of the Kollihills are no exception just as the plains people, who have moved up the hills over the decades, who occupy most lands on the hill slopes, whether pepper plantations or the endless tracts of forests that are quickly being destroyed.
In the Kollihills, there are several hill areas which are designated as Samimalai (a hill of God) and there are restrictions to use resources of this patch of the forests. One can see the variations, immediately, in the density of the vegetation compared to the other forest patches of the area. There are annual festivals performed in the temple on the top of the hills. Even during such festivals the tribes do not use even a stick from that forest. Firewood is also carried to the temple to cook food for the festival. Any deviation in the restriction would invite punishment from the Community Council. There are recent reports of offenders being fined to the tune of Rs 3,000. The Samimalai can be regarded as the sacred grove of the area.
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