The Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary takes its name from Travancoric gluta, an endemic species of Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve known as “Chenkurinji” in the local parlance. Belonging to the family Anacardiaceae, the tree was once abundant in the hills of the southern parts of Aryankavu Pass, but its presence has rapidly receded from the region over the years.
” Travancoric gluta is very sensitive to climate change and the current status of the species is quite poor with poor regeneration performance,” says Dr. PA Jose, Senior Scientist, Sustainable Forest Management Division, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) .
Although there are apparently a sufficient number of trees, most are not productive, generating a negative trend in its population. “Most of the trees are old with low flowering and fruiting rates. What we need now is an emergency repopulation at the sanctuary since the current population is in a degrading state. Right now we have a few young generation trees, and if we plant some now, we will have flowering trees within the next 25 years,” he says.
Although the flowering of Travancoric gluta usually occurs in January, lately the species has reported a tendency to prolong the process due to climate change. “It’s an adaptive strategy to increase the chances of germination and maintain a minimum viable population,” says Dr. Jose.
Although the tree is also seen inside the shola forests near Ponmudi, effective pollination hardly takes place in the habitat. “The habitat population is facing an inbreeding depression and we had previously collected albino seedlings, a sign of danger,” he adds.
According to forest officials, the tree has been widely seen in places such as Pandimala, Vilakkumaram and Rosemala in the past. “It is reported to have medicinal properties and is used to lower blood pressure and treat arthritis. The heartwood is quite robust with a deep red color, and several trees were felled for the wood in the first few days,” says a senior official.
Since past conservation measures have not been totally successful, the department is launching “Save Chenkurinji”, a campaign to be implemented in various areas under Achencoil Forestry Division.
As part of the campaign, the department is seeking to plant thousands of saplings in the ghat areas of Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts. Officials have identified about 75 schools in the region where Chenkurinji will be cultivated with student support.
Apart from schools, saplings will be planted in public places, and the department has already grown thousands of saplings for Save Chenkurinji. “The campaign will officially launch next week and we expect a visible difference in the years to come,” the manager says.