Sacred Groves in Western Himalaya, India: Community-Managed Nature Refuges for Conservation of Biodiversity and Culture

Sushma Singh, Jahangeer A Bhat, Zubair Ahmed Malik, Mudasir Youssouf, Rainer W Bussmann, Ripu M Kunwar


Background: Dedication of forests to a god or goddess is a potent example of an indigenous conservation practice, devised by native inhabitants to put an end to the unrestricted utilization of community forests. The present paper describes a case study of three little known Sacred Groves (SGs) from the Western Himalayas. SGs are communally protected forest fragments with significant religious connotations.

Methods: A preliminary survey was conducted in and around these SGs to evaluate the status of biodiversity, different myths and beliefs associated with them and their role in the biodiversity conservation. After establishing oral prior informed consent, data was gathered from the local participants especially from elderly people through semi-structured questionnaires.  Approximately 30% of the total households in each SG were interviewed. Two different sampling methods (random sampling and snowball sampling) were used for selection of informants from two different communities. The information collected included the general information regarding the SGs and the associated deity, nearby human occupancy, floral and faunal diversity and the ethnomedicinal property of different plants.

Results: A total of 78 plant species (including 37 trees, 27 shrubs and 14 herbs) belonging to 58 genera and 41 families were reported from the three sacred groves. About 91% of these plant species had ethno-medicinal importance. A few rare and threatened animal species were also reported that included Naemorhedus gora (Himalayan goral, near threatened, NT) reported from SG2 and SG3; Panthera pardus (leopard, vulnerable, Vu) and Ursus thibetanus (black bear, critically endangered, CR) both reported from all the three SGs.

Conclusion: SGs are not only the important repositories of ethno-medicinal plant species, but also act as corridors for animal migration in anthropogenic landscapes. However, in recent times, the SGs are threatened by uncontrolled and unplanned developmental activities, as well as invasive species, land use change, population growth and sociocultural change. Therefore, the specific guidelines to protect these sacred areas and promote traditional knowledge about conservation are pressing.

Keywords: Sacred Grove, Ethnobotany, Traditional Beliefs, Biodiversity Conservation, Deity, Western Himalaya.


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