The Odisha government has declared Mahendragiri hill in Gajapati district as biodiversity heritage site to preserve local habitats rich in plants and animal life.
“The government has been pleased to declare an area of 4250 hectare of Mahendragiri covering two reserve forests (Idongiri and Mahendra) in the district of Gajapati under forest division of Parlakhemundi as the second biodiversity heritage site of Odisha,” read a notification issued by the Forest, Environment & Climate Change (FE&CC) department.
Notably, Mandasaru Gorge area, spread over 544 hectares in Kandhamal district is Odisha’s first such heritage site, notified in 2016.
The state government has declared the new biodiversity heritage site on the recommendations of the Odisha Biodiversity Board.
Mahendragiri hill, located 1000 metre above mean sea level, is one of the biological, ecological and archaeological important mountain ecosystems in Odisha.
As per the notification, the hill ecosystem acts as a transitional zone between flora and fauna of Western Ghats and the Himalayan biogeographic zones making the region an ecological estuary of genetic diversities.
With increased altitude, the hill complex demonstrates several micro climatic conditions like tropical shola, tropical semi-evergreen, tropical moist-deciduous & tropical dry deciduous.
The diversified vegetation with rich floral diversity represents 40 per cent of the reported flora of Odisha.
A total of 1,358 species of plants including 1,042 species of angiosperms under 122 families, 60 species of pteridophytes, 104 species of bryophytes, 53 species of lichens and 72 species of macro-fungi and 2 species of gymnosperms occurring in the hill ecosystem.
In terms of botanically curious plants, 44 species of orchids, eight species of insectivorous plants and more than 300 species of medicinal plants are found in the mountain area.
The hill is an abode of 20 species of threatened medicinal plants ascertained by Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Tradition (FRLHT), Bangalore.
Out of 154 threatened plant species identified for Odisha, at least 60 species are reported to occur here which is ascertained from various scientific publications.
The faunal diversity of the hill consists of 388 species of animals which include 27 species of mammals, 165 species of birds, 60 species herpetofauna (23 species of snakes, 15 species of amphibians, 3 species of turtles, 19 species of lizards), 100 species of butterflies and 36 species of moths.
The hill complex is a critical habitat for Caecilians, Golden Geckos and frogs, 6 species of owls and 3 species of owlet.
Besides, Mahendragiri hill also plays a pivotal role in maintaining the ecological balance and controlling the climate of the entire south Odisha and Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
It is also home to ancient temples of Kunti, Bhima, Arjuna and Yudhisthir which come under the coverage of Antiquate Monument Archaeological Remains and Sites Act 1958 and draws nearly 1 lakh devotees every year.