According to a recent government announcement, Gupteswar Forest, nestled adjacent to the revered Gupteswar Shiva temple in Odisha's Koraput district, has been officially designated as the state's fourth Biodiversity-Heritage Site (BHS). Spanning across 350 hectares of marked territory, this forest enclave boasts diverse indigenous flora and fauna, including sacred groves revered by the local community.
The Odisha Biodiversity Board's comprehensive survey reveals a diverse ecosystem hosting 608 faunal species, comprising 28 mammals, 188 birds, 18 amphibians, 48 reptiles, 45 fish species, 141 butterflies, 43 moths, 41 odonates, 30 spiders, six scorpion species, and 20 lower invertebrates. Notable sightings include the mugger crocodile, kanger valley rock gecko, sacred Grove Bush Frog, and various avifauna such as the black baza, Jerdon's baza, Malabar trogon, common hill myna, white-bellied woodpecker, banded bay cuckoo.
The limestone caves within Gupteswar are home to eight bat species, with two species, Hipposideros galeritus and Rhinolophus rouxii, categorised as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The forest's botanical diversity encompasses 182 tree species, 76 shrubs, 177 herbs, 69 climbers, 14 orchids, and several threatened medicinal plants, promising a treasure trove of natural wonders.
Recognising the cultural and ecological significance of Gupteswar, the state government aims to bolster conservation efforts while enhancing local livelihoods through sustainable tourism and forest-based enterprises. This designation brings the total count of BHSs in Odisha to four, joining Mandasaru, Mahendragiri, and Gandhamardan.
The government has allocated funds for the formulation of a long-term conservation plan, emphasising community involvement in safeguarding these biodiversity hotspots. With an earmarked amount of ₹35 lakh for action planning and community awareness initiatives, the authorities are committed to nurturing these natural sanctuaries for future generations.
The announcement has been received positively by nature enthusiasts, intellectuals, and residents alike, who foresee economic opportunities through eco-tourism and sustainable resource utilisation. Meeta Biswal, Chairperson of the Odisha Biodiversity Board, and Member Secretary Nihar Ranjan Nayak commend the efforts of the Haladikunda (Gupteswar) Gram Panchayat's biodiversity management committee, along with scientists and researchers, for their instrumental role in achieving this milestone.