KHANGCHENDZONGA Biosphere Reserve to be included in the world Network of Biosphere Reserves

Why in News?

The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve has become the 11th Biosphere Reserve from India that has been included in the UNESCO designated World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).

Key Facts:

  • The decision to include it in WNBR was taken at the 30th Session of International Coordinating Council (ICC) of Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme of UNESCO held at Palembang, Indonesia.
  • India has 18 Biosphere Reserves and with the inclusion of Khangchendzonga, the number of internationally designated WNBR has become 11, with 7 Biosphere Reserves being domestic Biosphere Reserves.
  • With its inclusion in the WNBR list, the reserve joins other Indian biospheres such as Nandadevi, Simlipal, Sunderbans, and Nilgiri.
  • In total, India has 18 biosphere reserves, among which 11 have been internationally designated WNBR.
  • The remaining seven are domestic designated biosphere reserves and the Indian government is trying for their inclusion in the list as well.

Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve:

  • Khangchendzonga in Sikkim is one of the highest ecosystems in the world, reaching elevations of 1, 220 metres above sea-level.
  • It includes a range of ecolines, varying from sub-tropic to Arctic, as well as natural forests in different biomes that support an immensely rich diversity of forest types and habitats.
  • The core area of the Biosphere Reserve is a major transboundary Wildlife Protected Area.
  • The southern and central landscape, which makes up 86% of the core area, is situated in the Greater Himalayas.
  • The northern part of the area accounts for 14% is characterized by trans-Himalayan features.
  • Buffer zones are being developed to promote eco-tourism activities.
  • The core zone – Khangchendzonga National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 2016 under the ‘mixed’ category.
  • Many of the mountains, peaks, lakes, caves, rocks, Stupas (shrines) and hot springs function as pilgrimage sites.
  • The transition zone is targeted for eco-development activities, afforestation, plantation of medicinal herbs and soil conservation measures.
  • Flora
    • Over 118 species of the large number of medicinal plants found in Dzongu Valley in north Sikkim are of ethno-medical utility.
    • The vegetation includes temperate broadleaf and mixed forests consisting of oaks, fir, birch, maple, willow etc.
    • The vegetation of the park also includes alpine grasses and shrubs at higher altitudes along with many medicinal plants and herbs.
  • Fauna
    • The park contains many mammal species including musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan tahr, wild dog, sloth bear, civet, Himalayan black bear, red panda, Tibetan wild ass, Himalayan blue sheep, serow, goral and takin etc.
    • A recent study revealed, that the Asiatic wild dog has become very rare in the area.

Recognised under MAB:

  • Biosphere reserves are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science.
  • The programme of Biosphere Reserve was initiated by UNESCO in 1971.
  • Comprising 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries, including 20 transboundary sites, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the MAB Programme consists of a dynamic and interactive network of sites of excellence.
  • The purpose of the formation of the biosphere reserve is to conserve in situ all forms of life, along with its support system, in its totality, so that it could serve as a referral system for monitoring and evaluating changes in natural ecosystems.

Significance of Admission

  • Betterment of State: The news has brought cheers to the state of Sikkim, already feted for its conservation, ecotourism and organic farming policies. The renewed attention is expected to help put in place measures to address gaps in conservation, development and livelihood challenges.
  • Conservation and development: The new designation will broaden the possibility of engaging and co-operating with biosphere reserves in the MAB network internationally in order to look for conservation and development in a holistic manner.
  • Research: It will give importance to research and development activities so to find out gap areas in conservation, in development and in livelihood so they can be addressed.

Understanding Biosphere Reserve:

  • According to UNESCO, “Biosphere Reserves are the areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by the national government and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located”.
  • Biosphere Reserve has three interrelated zones that aim to fulfil three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:
  • Core area: It comprises the strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystem, species and genetic variation.
  • Buffer Zone: It surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and it is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, education, monitoring, and training.
  • Transition Zone: It is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is permitted, fostering economic and human development that is ecologically sustainable.

Objectives of BRs:

  • The biosphere reserve should fulfil the following three objectives:
  • In-situ conservation of biodiversity of natural and semi-natural ecosystems and landscapes
  • Contribution to sustainable economic development of the human population living within and around the Biosphere Reserve.
  • Provide facilities for long term ecological studies, environmental education and training and research and monitoring.
  • In order to fulfil the above objectives, the Biosphere Reserves are classified into zones like the core area, buffer area. The system of functions is prescribed for each zone.

UNESCO’s Man & Biosphere Programme:

  • UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) is an Intergovernmental Scientific Programme that was launched in 1971.
  • UNESCO’s Man & Biosphere Programme logo
  • It aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.
  • It proposes interdisciplinary research, demonstration and training in natural resources management.
  • Its World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts more than 600 sites in 122 countries all over the world, including 20 transboundary sites.
  • The first of India’s reserves to make it to UNESCO’s list was Tamil Nadu’s Niligiri Biosphere Reserve in 2000.
  • Under the programme, Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.
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