Similipal Biosphere Reserve was named after the Simili plant. It was established in 1994 as part of the MAB (Man and Biosphere) program with UNESCO, the objective being to bring people and their livelihoods along with the forest and its wildlife under a cohesive eco-development initiative. That way both the socio-economic development of the people is enriched and there is less pressure on the forests. It is within the Mayurbhanj district of the state of Orissa and is 2750 square kilometers. Broken up, 2091 sq. km. of is forest reserve while 659 sq. km. is protected. It is a critical National Park that supports numerable wildlife and biodiversity, is home to several different indigenous communities, and is a critical watershed. In fact, Similipal provides water to 20 million people both in Orissa and other surrounding states.
As a biosphere reserve this place is dedicated to both the landscaped and the biodiversity within, as well as accounts for developmental activities that work alongside the local people to resolve conservation issues. A few of the significant features of Similipal are that it has several water sources, 2 of which (Barehipani and Joranda) are permanent waterfalls; it receives relatively high precipitation, and resembles the Western Ghats in regards to flora and fauna while also being a part of the Mahanandian Biogeographic Reserve.
Similipal has a rich biodiversity with over 3000 species of plants, 94 of which are orchids, and a multitude of animal species, one of which being the rare black melanistic tiger. The endemism has not been fully explored in this reserve but it is thought to be potentially high due to tree ferns, medicinal plants, orchids, and more. One example of endemism is a new species of Palm Civet, scientifically classified as Paradoxurus jorandensis, found in the early 1980’s and determined to be endemic. In regards to fauna, Similipal is distinct for its high elephant population, being one of the major concentrations of the Central-India, and there is also a large variety of cat species.
Similipal is comprised of three main kinds of ecosystems being forests, swamps, wetlands, and grasslands. There are 4 distinct types of forests, being: Northern Tropical Semi-evergreen forest, Northern Tropical Moist deciduous forest, dry deciduous hill fores, and high level Sal forest. A major part of the Similipal Biosphere Reserve includes the Similipal Tiger Reserve, which was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1979.
Mahabali Forest Protection Committee
This committee was initiated by the NGO Gram Swaraj and works with 300 or so villages that are close to the forest. The purpose is to mobilize villagers to take care of the forest that they are traditionally using. The NGO will organize meetings among clusters of villages to explain how to protect the forest against fire as well as how to protect the wildlife. There are volunteers from these villages who keep Gram Swaraj updated on the work being done as well as reach out to them when they need help. Every year Gram Swaraj increases the number of villages it works with and the ultimate goal is to work with all villages around Similipal Reserve.
The committee is made up of 48 members, evenly divided by 24 males and 24 females. Every individual is a tribal representative, mostly from the Mankaria community. Other tribes represented include Santal and Munda. The main purpose and responsibility of the Mahabili Forest Protection Committee is to protect the forest and one of the significant steps being taken is to fully stop alcohol use. By stopping alcohol consumption they hope to reduce the number of people going into the forest to cut down trees to sell them. This money is then used to buy alcohol. Often when they know a man is drinking they will go to his house and explain the reasons why drinking is bad for him and his family. If he refuses to stop his actions the committee will often fine that individual.
Other issues they tackle are to stop certain rocks being mined from the forest. They will approach the government office, since they have the authority to stop mines, and then will seek their support. Then they directly to the mines and stage a strike. Overall, they are concerned about the destruction being done to the forest. This is not only harmful to the biodiversity but affects the livelihoods and revenue of these villagers who rely heavily on the forest for NTFP collection.
About 3-4 years ago Gram Swaraj, along with the committee, organized a foot march rally that lasted for 11 days and went through 160 villages. During this march they explained the importance of the forest and why it should be protected. After the march more people had gained awareness and joined the committee. One of the main events that the Mahabili Committee does annually is to go to the forest and celebrate a festival called Rakshya Bandhan. This celebration is a common occurrence observed in every household. Every sister will tie a Raki on her brother(s) wrist and it is believed that the brother(s) will be protected from all dangers. Similarly the committee members will go to the forest and tie a Raki on a tree as a way to spread the message not to cut down the trees but protect it. Likewise, they believe when the forest is treated with such regard then the trees will protect the people as well.