Historically, South Chennai has been a massive floodplain, comprised predominantly of the Pallikaranai marsh and its satellite wetlands with intermittent patches of scrub forests. Remnants of these forests are seen in protected campuses of the Theosophical society, the Indian Institute of Technology, Guindy National Park and the Nanmangalam Reserve Forest to the south of the city. Spread over 2.7 square kilometre, the Guindy National Park (GNP), a slice of coastal thorny scrub is a haven of quiet, amidst the bustling metropolis that envelopes it on all sides.
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The Chennai Forest Circle, which comprises the districts of Chennai, Chengalpattu and Tiruvallur is blessed with three out of the nine major forest types of the State–tropical dry deciduous, tropical dry thorn scrub and tropical dry evergreen.
Before this forest patch in Guindy was declared as a National Park in 1978, it was part of the elaborate Guindy Lodge, the official country residence of the erstwhile Governor of Madras and now the official residence of the Governor of the state of Tamil Nadu, the Raj Bhavan. GNP was originally a mix of tropical scrub and Palmyra dominated thorn woodlands. Over the years it was enriched with native and exotic trees to create the present vegetation structure that resembles a natural forest.
The region’s isolated scrub forests are characterised by the presence of relatively short trees interspersed with grasslands. Scrubs and thickets are most often surrounded by larger trees making the area appear densely vegetated. An abundance of fruit bearing trees and shrubs makes GNP a thriving bird habitat as well.
The Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) and the Chital or Spotted Deer (Axis axis) are the predominant faunal elements at the GNP with the latter being introduced into the Park while the Raj Bhavan was being developed; they have now been found to feed and breed in the contiguous IIT-Madras campus as well.
Over the years, close to a hundred and fifty species of birds have been sighted at the GNP which include different species of bee-eaters, bulbuls and sunbirds.
The GNP is not just a critical green lung, but also an excellent space to showcase urban forest conservation. The Park has consistently interested scientists and naturalists for existing as an island of tranquility in the midst of urban congestion and concrete chaos. The Forest Department had developed walking trails within the Park, most of which were destroyed by Cyclone Vardah. One such trail remains, now mostly used by school children to take a tour around the Park.
Since only school students in small batches are currently allowed to enter the GNP, here is a virtual tour for you through our photos:
References: Developing a water management strategy and action plan in the Guindy National Park; TNFD, 2014; All pictures clicked by Seetha Gopalakrishnan and Vinoth Balasubramanian for Care Earth Trust.