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Vol. 9(1), pp. 12-16The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJanuary 2008

An Initiative to Community Based Orchid Conservation in the Gori Valley, Uttarakhand, Western Himalaya, India

Jeewan Singh Jalal, G. S. Rawat, and Pankaj Kumar

Wildlife Institute of India
Post Box# 18, Dehradun-248001, India
Email: jeewansinghjalal@rediffmail.com

(All photos are credited to the first author.)

Fig. 1. Location map of India and the Gori Valley.

Fig. 2. Distribution map of epiphytic orchids.

The Westen Himalaya forms one of the important botanical regions in India. Despite a long history of botanical explorations there are several valleys in this region which remain under-explored. Gori Valley in eastern flank of Uttarakhand state, adjacent to Nepal border, is one such valley that has remained little known among the botanists due to its remoteness (Fig. 1). The valley is bounded in the north by the Tibetan plateau and in the south-east by Nepal which is separated by river Kali. The Panchachuli group of peaks forms the north-eastern boundary. The total catchment area of valley is 2230 sq. km. This forms about 4% area of the Uttarakhand. The basin is extremely rich in forests and wildlife due to unique biogeographic location. It is estimated that about 88% of the area is under forests (including 64.24% under community forest). This valley supports as many as 121 species of orchids out of 239 species reported from Western Himalaya (Fig. 2). Hence it can be regarded as one of the orchid hotspots in the Western Himalaya. The valley is a remote part of the newly created state of Uttarakhand. Most of the villages are situated very far from the main towns and these areas are so remote and underdeveloped that it takes days together to reach those distant spots. Permanent human habitations occupy the lower valley and some people seasonally migrate to the alpine valleys for six months. There are 171 revenue villages within the whole upper and lower Gori valley, with population of ca. 43,542 individuals. The economy of the people largely depends on agriculture and animal husbandry. The livelihood of the people of Gori valley is largely conditioned by the topography of the terrain and harsh climatic conditions.

Fig. 3. Distribution map of terrestrial orchids.

Orchids are, in fact, a proud possession of the hobbyists, nurserymen and are a symbol of royalty in many countries. In the southeast Asian country Thailand, enormous revenue is earned by selling commercial orchids. On the other hand the local communities in Gori Valley continue to exploit their forests which harbor a large number of beautiful orchids (Fig. 3). A number of orchid species found in this area are rare and threatened because of the destruction of their natural habitats. Developmental activities, such as road construction and power projects coupled with rising population have put enormous pressure on the species and habitats. Major pressures like lopping of host trees for fuel wood and fodder by the local community of the valley has posed tremendous pressure on orchid habitats. The local community, who are well known for their knowledge of various plants, need to be involved in conservation and management. Several botanists and conservationists have recommended that this valley should be declared as Orchid Sanctuary. However, the government of Uttarakhand is unlikely to declare this area as a sanctuary due to its heavy use by local communities. Though the orchids of Gori valley are not giving any direct benefit to the local people, there is the opportunity to develop horticulture and ecotourism, which could generate revenue for local communities. The only apparent way to protect the riverine forests and orchids in the valley is through the community participation and awareness generation. Any conservation and restoration program for nature protection will be successful only if the local communities are taken in to confidence as they are the key stake holders. Keeping this in view, a community based conservation program funded by Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation, and was initiated in the Gori Valley.

Fig. 4. A dead and decaying host of epiphytic orchid species.

Fig. 5. Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo, 1962. (Syn. Orchis latifolia var. indica Lindley, 1835.) One of the threatened orchid species.

For initiating a conservation approach within the Gori Valley, we have conducted a general survey of the valley. A systematic survey of orchids was conducted in the entire valley covering different terrains and forest types. The survey was conducted from mid September 2005 to March 2006. A total of approximately 800 km was traversed on foot in the various localities in the valley. During the survey, we have collected information on orchids. Photographs of orchids and video clippings were done for photo documentation and preparation of posters and educational materials on orchid conservation. During the field work, we interacted with villagers about orchid distribution and orchid-rich sites to identify specific orchid sites for future conservation programmes. GPS locations were overlaid in the land set imagery to know the distribution pattern of orchid species in the Gori valley region. During our survey various host species were seen heavily loaded with epiphytic orchids in the riverine area and cultivated land (Fig. 4). Host species like Toona ciliata, Engelhardtia spicata, Quercus leucotrichophora and Mangifera indica are most favorable for epiphytic orchids. In some localities we have reported more than 27 epiphytic orchids in a single Toona ciliata tree. The largest of the host species have been lopped by the local user group for their day-to-day needs for fodder and fuel wood. The terrestrial orchids were mainly concentrated in the temperate grassy slopes and alpine area. In alpine and sub alpine area, the terrestrial orchids are threatened mainly due to heavy grazing pressures. Most of the orchid rich areas are being used by shepherds for camping. One species in the upper valley, Dactylorhiza hatagirea is commercially exploited by the local people (Fig. 5).

Four voluntary groups with four members in each team were selected for conservation campaigning. In each voluntary group, one person was selected as group leader. These volunteers were selected from different villages irrespective of caste, creed, and educational background. The age group of these volunteers was between 20-40 years. These groups were trained on the importance of orchids before the campaigning was actually begun. Subsequently, several smaller workshops were conducted which included slide shows and poster exhibitions at different villages and in primary and senior schools. As a follow up of the conservation programme, local communities were also involved in in situ restoration of orchids in their localities. For this, local communities were trained with the help of volunteers on methods of restoration of orchids that fall or becomes detached from the host plant due to natural or anthropogenic pressures. A simple questionnaire was prepared and conducted along the field survey, workshops and village level meetings.

Forty one villages were visited in the valley and 508 individuals were interviewed. Out of 508 persons interviewed, 55% were male and 45% were female, belonging to three different age groups (below 20 years-41; 20-40 years-240; and above 40 years-227). The questionnaire survey revealed that only 38% including both males and females know about orchids in this area which they locally identify with the name "Bhalu Ka Kela" which means bear's banana or "Harjojan" meaning bone jointer. These vernacular names were probably derived from the external appearance of the orchids.

Fig. 6. Villagers at a workshop.

Fig. 7. Scene within an orchid restoration house.

A series of workshops were conducted in the Gori valley for awareness among villagers (Fig. 6). We selected four villages for conducting workshop viz. Umergadha, Bangapani, Bagichabager and Baram. Before conducting the workshop, villagers were informed at least one week before about such an event to be organized. Talks were delivered to the local people and posters on orchids were displayed for providing information on orchids to the villagers. For awareness generation within the local community, simple posters, brochures, T-shirts, and drawings and banners on orchids in the local language were prepared. A low cost orchid restoration house has been constructed at the middle of the lower valley and is maintained by the volunteers. This is used for keeping fallen and detached orchids (Fig. 7). A total of 40 species are being maintained in live condition and about 120 individuals have been relocated in the valley at suitable habitats/hosts. The restoration house was also used for training activities.

The local communities in the lower Gori Valley do not have adequate livelihood opportunities. However they look forward to any enterprise based ventures in the form of horticulture, production of cash crops, nature based ecotourism, and the like. The production of cut flowers and orchid plants is seen as an important future enterprise to be undertaken by these local communities. It is hoped that Government of Uttarakhand will pay attention to the conservation and developmental prospects in the valley and support the local communities in maintaining the green cover, replicating the orchid rehabilitation centers and habitat conservation.

Copyright © 2008 Jeewan Singh Jalal, G. S. Rawat, and Pankaj Kumar