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Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve

The Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve is the most dramatic and ecologically diverse landscape in the Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh states of India. It is one of the less developed and least disturbed areas in both the states. It encompasses most of the original natural and cultural features.

Ecological Characteristics

The Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve is located at the junction of hill ranges, with topography ranging from high mountains, shallow valleys and plains.  Moist deciduous forests constitute 63% of the area. It is very rich in flora and fauna due to its tropical moist deciduous vegetation which covers the majority of the area and tropical dry deciduous vegetation to its southern part, minimum disturbed landscapes, endemism and genetic variation. It has nearly 1498 plant species belonging to 799 plant genera from thallophytes, bryophytes, pteridophytes, gymnosperms and angiosperms. There are 3 endemic and 282 regionally rare species and 39 different categories of globally threatened floral species. In animals, there are 327 species belonging to 256 genera of invertebrate and vertebrate fauna besides many taxonomically undescribed species. The Biosphere Reserve is home of 67 threatened faunal species, belonging to various categories of global threats as per IUCN 2001 categorization like Four horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis), Indian wild dog (Cuon alpinus), Saras crane (Grus antigone), Asian white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Sacred grove bush frog (Philautus sanctisilvaticus).

The geology of the area is unique and varied from schists and gneisses with granite intrusions, to sand stones, shales, limestone, basaltic lava and bauxite. The soil varies in composition and texture from sandy to loamy-clays, generally light brown to brownish and olive green clay at some places. Red soil due to presence of iron oxide which is porous and fertile, alluvial soil on the banks of numerous streams in the tract and black cotton soil in many areas, support a large number of ecosystem and species. Soil and moisture conservation, construction of check dams, rehabilitation of degraded bamboo forests, grass meadow development and conservation of landscapes are being done to improve the ecosystem.

Socio-Economic Characteristics

Twenty-seven tribal and non-tribal communities inhabit 418 villages. The total population of the area belonging to 27 communities as per the last census (2001) is 436,128 habitants.  The main occupation is agriculture (including production of medicinal plants), bamboo handicraft and non-timber products produced in the buffer zone and transition areas.

The Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve is an interstate reserve located in central India. Spread across the two states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, it occupies an ecologically diverse and the least disturbed biogeographic region of the country. It covers an area of over 3835.51 sq. km, of which 551.55 sq. km consists of the core zone. The position of the biosphere reserve on a junction of three major mountain ranges (Maikal, Satpura and Vindhya) has made the landscape dotted with hills, shallow valleys, and plains. The mountains form a major source for several streams, and three major rivers, the Narmada, Johilla and the Son.  The area was made into a biosphere reserve in 2005 and was declared a part of UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2012.

This reserve has unique and varied geology which ranges from schists and gneisses, sandstone, shales, limestone, to basaltic lava and bauxite. Consequently, the soil varies from sandy to loamy-clays, which are generally light brown to brownish and even olive green clay at some places. The reserve experiences a typical monsoon type of climate, with hot summers, cold winters and a rainy season. 

The area is mainly covered with moist deciduous forests where 1,527 species of flora and 324 species of fauna exist. The flora includes thallophytes (algae, fungi, and lichen), bryophytes, ferns, gymnosperms, and angiosperms. The rugged mountain terrain, as well as grasslands, gives shelter to 327 species of wildlife, consisting of Tiger, Bison, Bear, Spotted Deer, Panther, Wildcat, Fox, and Sambhar. The Four-horned antelope, Indian wild dog, Saras crane, Asian white-backed vulture, and the sacred grove bush frog are some of the threatened ones. 

The core area has protected forest land, and the buffer and transition zones consist of agricultural land and small clusters of townships. At least 27 tribal and non-tribal communities live in the 400 odd villages in this reserve. The major tribes that reside here are Baiga, Gond, Kol, Kanwar, Pradhan, and Panka. Besides collecting forest produce, they also grow seasonal crops like wheat, maize, and medicinal plants. People living in the buffer zone and transition areas make bamboo handicrafts and non-timber products.

The town of Amarkantak, lying in the Reserve, is a holy place. It is considered the place of origin of the Narmada River and the Hindu seer, Adi Sankaracharya, is said to have visited it. Thus devotees come here to visit temples and ashrams. The reserve with its plateaus, forest ranges, waterfalls and lakes also attracts tourists and nature lovers.  

The presence of human activity and the changing global climate poses problems for the reserve. Issues such as excessive exploitation of natural resources, the rampant growth of unwanted weed in the water bodies, threats to indigenous vegetation and unregulated use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are major concerns. Equally important is the issue of water pollution caused by the improper disposal of domestic sewage. These problems are being addressed, with the involvement of all stakeholders, including the local people.