People

Meet the Women Guarding India’s Rainforest Flora!

What an inspiration!

Deforestation and climate change are leading to the ravaging of UNESCO heritage-listed Western Ghats, a team of women are struggling to protect one of the area’s last enclaves of biodiversity. At Gurukula Botanical Garden, a group of 27 women are guarding the rare ferns, tree-hugging mosses and thousands of other plants that may otherwise be lost forever.

The region is home to at least 325 threatened flora and fauna species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nations has ranked the region as ‘Significant concern’. The team calls the area a refugee camp or a hospital because the flora  would entirely be lost otherwise. 

“We are trying to salvage what is possible. It is like a refugee camp,” said Suprabha Seshan, one of the curators at the reserve. “The intensive care unit is in the pots and then when you take them out that’s like the general ward where they get other forms of primary health care,” she added.

She also said that 90% of the flora that was once all over the area has disappeared, terming the phenomenon as an ecological ‘holocaust’. Gurukula was created by the team of women to create a safe haven for these flora against global warming and human encroachment, in the hope of slowly repopulating the region. 

While the women are from local villages, the haven was built 50 years ago by German conservationist Wolfgang Theuerkauf. Theuerkauf, who became an Indian citizen in 1978 and died seven years ago, started with seven acres (three hectares) of forest, today it is ten times that size.

Due to the conservatory work of these women, 30-40% of the Western Ghats flora are under conservation at Gurukula. Dressed in big boots — to protect against cobras and the pitiless insects — and brightly coloured tunics, their hair tied under scarves, the women put in long days in the forests, the sanctuary’s greenhouses and its nursery.

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