• Field of the Awardees
By Tapoja Chaudhuri,Washtington State University
The Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala is a storehouse of natural beauty, attracting conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers from all over the world. Placed in the High Ranges of the Western Ghats, the Lake Periyar is surrounded by gentle green slopes, and houses a wide variety of flora and fauna. The Lake, which was formed when the Mullaperiyar Dam was built in 1895, is studded with the dead tree trunks of the submerged forestland, which adds to the picturesque appeal of the sanctuary. Sprawled over 777 sq. kms., the moist tropical forestland of the sanctuary presents a rich tapestry of life thereby being a biodiversity hotspot. Originally a game sanctuary of the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore, the area around the Lake Periyar was declared as wildlife sanctuary in 1950. In 1978 the sanctuary was declared as a
Tiger Reserve and was brought under the Project Tiger of the Government of India. It was further brought under Project Elephant in 1991. The Periyar Tiger Reserve is today one of the most popular wildlife destinations in the country, attracting both domestic and international visitors.

The Periyar Tiger Reserve is in the Idukki and the Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala, flanked by the High Ranges that contributes to its undulating terrain. The northern and northeastern sides of the sanctuary are bordered by Tamil Nadu. On its southern boundary, the sanctuary is contiguous with Ranni and Achenkovil divisions. On its northern border is the Kottayam division. Being on mountain slopes, the sanctuary can be only reached by road at Thekkady. The nearest town Kumily (about 4 kms away from the sanctuary) is well connected with cities like Kottayam (114 kms.), Cochin (190 kms) in Kerala and Madurai (140 kms) in Tamil Nadu. The road to Kumily has its own charms to offer to the travelers as it meanders through lush green tea and spice plantations.

Being one of biggest wildlife sanctuaries in the Western Ghats region, the slopes of the Periyar Tiger Reserve features a wide range of vegetation types. The visitors can witness the differences in vegetation while undertaking short hiking tours which traverse patches of dense moist to dry deciduous forests, marshy lands and open grass lands, each with its unique landscapes. The core area of the forest is covered with rich evergreen forests, creating a thick forest canopy. The hill slopes of the sanctuary are covered with the shola grasslands. Apart from pleasing one's senses, such variety of forest cover has enormous ecological value as it nurtures thousands of species of plants, with 370 medicinal plant varieties.