ZSI seeks UNESCO label for ‘living root bridges’

The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), a leading zoological organization, has claimed that wildlife diversity and the preparation of health maps are prerequisites for Meghalaya’s ‘living root bridges’ – a pioneer highlighting the botanical and socio-cultural links between nature and human culture, to obtain the label “World Heritage Site” from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Dr. Dhriti Banerjee emphasized two aspects to fulfill UNESCO World Heritage Criteria IX and X.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. K Vijay Raghavan, said Living Root Bridges deserves the UNESCO label because of its rich micro and macro species associated with the major tourist destination.

Criterion IX – represents sites with significant ongoing ecological and biological processes and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and plant and animal communities.

However, Criterion X – represents sites that contain significant natural habitats for the in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from a scientific or conservation point of view.

ZSI scientists recently visited some of the Living Root Bridges sites to assess faunal diversity and documented – 83 faunal (six mammalian, five aquatic, 72 terrestrial) from the 11 Living Root Bridges. Six species of mammals were reported for the first time from two bridges.

“A fruit bat, Macroglossus sobrinus K Anderson, was found with seeds in the spit and appeared to be a potential seed disperser, requiring further investigation. The diversity of entomofauna includes eight orders (two aquatic , six land) within 200 meters of assessed live bridges,” ZSI said in a statement.

“One Living Root Bridge site, Nohwet, was observed with a higher diversity of butterflies, dragonflies and aquatic insects than other Living Root Bridges. No Isoptera (termite) infestation was observed in any of the root bridges. Cobwebs were visible on the tree trunks,” the statement continued.

“The expedition to Living Root Bridges helped explore the diversity of fauna to provide data supporting the recognition of these bridges as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by strengthening the nomination with biodiversity inputs and ecosystem services of these biological bridges,” he added.

Recently, while attending the National Convention on Community-Based and Scientific Research and Development in Conservation in Jingkieng Jri, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma, said that “the living root bridge puts highlights the symbiotic relationship between nature and human culture to a global audience, but more so, it focuses on the need to take a balanced approach between economy and ecology, something that the government of l State has worked tirelessly over the past few years.

Known locally as Jingkieng Jri, the ‘living root bridges’ are preserved by communities in Meghalaya through their sacred customary practice of preserving groves known as ‘Law Kyntang’.

According to scientists, the ‘Living Root Bridges’ are home to several critically endangered species of flora and fauna, and are therefore a major reason to be considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Considered one of the finest creations, “Living Root Bridges” are made from the roots of the rubber tree, known as the Ficus elastica tree. Their tangled root networks provide a stable alternative to wooden bridges.

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