Mukurthi National Park

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Mukurthi National Park (MNP) is a 78.46 km2 (30.3 sq mi) protected area located in the western corner of the Nilgiris Plateau west of Ootacamund hill station in the northwest corner of Tamil Nadu state in the Western Ghats mountain range of South India. The park was created to protect its keystone species, the Nilgiri tahr.

The park is characterised by montane grasslands and shrublands interspersed with sholas in a high altitude area of high rainfall, near-freezing temperatures and high winds. It is home to an array of endangered wildlife, including royal Bengal tiger and Asian elephant, but its main mammal attraction is the Nilgiri tahr. The park was previously known as Nilgiri Tahr National Park.

The park is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India’s first International Biosphere Reserve. As part of the Western Ghats, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1 July 2012.

Native hill tribe communities including the Toda people have harvested firewood from the sholas and grazed their animals including the hill buffalo for centuries. Indiscriminate felling of the sholas started with the establishment of British settlements in Ootacamund, Coonoor and Wellington in the early 19th century. Beginning in 1841 authorities issued contracts to bidders to fell wood from specific sholas in a ‘timber conservancy’ program. In 1868 James Breeds, commissioner of the Hills, wrote: “…unless conservancy is taken in hand and organized under some efficient system under the control of an experienced officer, the destruction of the sholas is but a question of time.

 

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Bangitappal (Cannabis tableland), at the southwest end of the park at the confluence of two streams at the head of the Sispara Pass, used to be a halting place on the old Sispara ghat road from Kozhikode to Ooty, constructed in 1832. This pass provided a short land route for postal runners from Ooty to the west coast in the 19th century and was used for smuggling of cannabis, tobacco and later salt.A forest rest house and a trekkers shed built there in 1930 are now used by park staff and visiting researchers.

Between 1840 and 1856 plantations of several non-native tree species were introduced to the area to satisfy the fuel-wood demand. These included four wattle species (black wattle, silver wattle, green wattle and blackwood), eucalyptus, cypress, Indian long leaf pine and thorny gorse. Eucalyptus became the preferred plantation tree.

Unlike the others, the wattles spread by root suckers to quickly cover large areas of native grasslands, including the Mukurthi Hills, and was declared a pest “useful for covering wastelands.”. Some black wattle plantations were maintained for the leather industry, as their bark yielded tannin.

In 1882 Inspector General of Forests, Dietrich Brandis “recommended bringing the present 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) of plantation up to 5,000 acres (20 km2) to create enormous forest blocks “…which would make any remaining sholas redundant forest resources.” The entire area of MNP, was declared as a Reserve forest in 1886.

In 1920 it was suggested that 10–15 acre plots in the Kundah Hills including the present park area, “be planted up each year in places where sholas have almost or quite disappeared, the most suitable species probably being Acacia dealbata (silver wattle)”, thus replacing highly diverse endemic and stable ecosystems with an exotic monoculture supporting little animal diversity.

The area was declared as a wildlife sanctuary on 3 August 1982 and upgraded to a National Park on 15 October 1990 in order to protect the Nilgiri tahr.

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