Archive for February, 2009

The High Ranges, The Western Ghats, India

An Article by Mohan Pai

Biodiversity

South of the Nilgiris

The High Ranges

Shooting Point, Anamalais – Pic by Mohan Pai
Immediately after the Nilgiris, the High Ranges begin south of the Palakkad Gap. Most of this high elevation hilly tract lies within the Idukky district of Kerala but some portion of it – its eastern flanks extend into Tamil Nadu (Thirunelveli – Kottabomman, Kamarajar, Madurai, Dindigul and Coimbatore districts).The area covered here extends approximately 9 20’ N to 10 20’ N latitude and 76 30’ E longitude.
This high elevation hilly tract covers the Nelliyampathies, the Anaimalais, the Palni Hills, the High Wavies, the Varushanad Hills, the Cardamom Hills and a few smaller radiating spurs. The Anaimudi Peak is located at the south western corner of the ridge. The Palni Hills or the Kodaikanal Hills extend due east from the north eastern corner of the High Ranges almost like a spur. Most of the area of Anamalais and Palni Hills are in Tamil Nadu.

 

This is the most important catchment area for Kerala and southern Tamil Nadu rivers. All the west flowing rivers – Periyar, Moovattpuza, Meenachil and Manimala receive all their waters from this tract. Some portion of Chalakudy and Pamba river is also in this tract. The Amaravathy, a tributary of Kaveri, and Vaigai originate from the eastern flanks of the High Ranges and flow east in Tamil Nadu.

The High Ranges and the adjacent hill tracts to the east in Tamil Nadu across the state boundary together extend over 7500 – 8000 sq km in area. It ranges in elevation from near sea level to over 2660 m and is exposed to an extraordinary range of climatic conditions. This area had a very long span of geological stability and hence and hence nurtured an exceptional ecological richness and diversity. The very difficult terrain and inclement weather conditions have sheltered the ecosystems in this hill ranges from severe human depredations.
It was the advent of the missionaries, military explorers, suveyors and adventurers from Europe that brought the area into wider attention since the early 19th century. Soon its suitability for tropical cash crops such as coffee, tea, cardamom, pepper, cinchona, rubber, cocoa and a host of sub-temperate fruits and vegetables enticed many Europeans to open up the interior forests and raise extensive plantations. Many river valley projects came up both for irrigation and hydroelectric power. For its total geographical extent, the High Ranges now have the maximum number of major and medium dams in the entire Southern Western Ghats. In fact now more than 75% of Kerala’s electricity comes exclusively from this tract.

Munnar Valley – Pic by Mohan Pai

Climate
There is a wide range of variation in weather parameters within the tract. Many deep valleys along the western edge have an annual rainfall well over 6000 mm. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east with sheltered effect produced by the very high ridges in reduced rainfall (less than 600 mm) in regions like Chinar and Anjanad Valley.

All reaches of the tract below 900 m elevation are humid tropical with two monsoon seasons where the annual average temperature remains within 32 – 16 C. Range with only 2-3 rainless months. Elevation between 900 m and upto 1600 m have subzero at times during winter nights with high wind chill factor. Frost prevails regularly and these areas have much lower annual total rainfall, lower humidity and a uniformly lower maximum temperature.

Denudation of Forests
Beginning of the 19th century, probably the entire area was practically covered by natural closed canopy forest vegetation and high elevation montane grasslands. Then plantations were established by the European settlers in a series of waves throughout the 1880’s and the early 1900’s till almost the beginning of the Second World War. No worthwhile extent of natural forest area survived these early onslaughts in the Mount Plateau-Peermade Plateau areas. Further north, in the heart of the High Ranges, in 1877 almost 500 sq km of forests were leased out for what later to be the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company.

Most of the remaining areas of the High Ranges, particularly in the valleys and western slopes remained forested, reserved as government forests. However, over the years, most of it has vanished into the reservoirs for dams, encroachments and even townships.

Mattuppetty Reservoir – Pic by Mohan Pai

The Sholas
The High Ranges have the maximum extent of shola grassland habitat remaining in any part of the Western Ghats. The Sholas are subtropical evergreen forests which are relict vegetation and harbour species which have outlasted the gradual climatic and ecological changes since the last glaciation, 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. These Pleistocene refugia are mostly restricted to the Western Ghats south of Coorg and are among the most endangered ecosystems in our country. Most of these grasslands have already been drastically modified. The loss of biodiversity from this region is unknown and the erosion still continues.

Cardamom Hills – Pic by Mohan Pai

 

Kerala Grass’
The cultivation of ganja (marijuana), started in the High Ranges has become a serious problem causing extensive deforestation and with disastrous repercussions for the whole country. Ganja cultivation has now spread to all reaches of the Southern Western Ghats.

The Tribals
The High Ranges have a fairly large population of hill men and forest dwellers. Among them the Muthuvas, the Mannans, the Malapulayans, the Ooralis, the Mala Arayas and the Malampandarams are the important surviving communities.
The earler inhabitants of the High Ranges whom we classify as tribal people are essentially of two categories – the true older forest inhabitants and the late migrants form the Tamil Nadu plains. The former were possibly occupying the western valley forests and the foothill forests. These people were in social organization and a culture more aboriginal. They used to hunt, collect forest produce for consumption and some for barter, while some groups practised shifting cultivation. They were gradually ousted from the more fertile low lands. As forests degraded due to the pressure of ‘civilized’ plains people and its diversity became depleted they could collect only less and less produce for their use. At present forests all along the western edge of Idukky district, near the noth western edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and the extensive Anaimudi Reserved Forest area where the tribal survival and forest preservation are apparently in conflict.
Apart from these hill men, throughout the past these hills have been refuges or retreats for many groups of people from the plains. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments occur in many locations, now mostly in ruins.

Author at the base of Anaimudi Peak

Protected Areas in the High Ranges

The Northern cluster in the High Ranges area has the Peechi-Vazani WS,Chimmony WS, Parambikulam WS, Eravikulam NP and Chinnar WS in Kerala and the Anaimalai WS (Indira Gandhi WS) in Tamil Nadu. The Thattakkad Bird Sanctuary extending over 25 sq km consists mostly of heavily distributed lowland forests and is located along the north western edge of the High Range forest belt in the Pooyamkutty valley.
The Southern cluster has the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary in Kadyanalloor hills of Tamil Nadu.

Peechi – Vazhani & Chimmony WLS

Located in the extreme north west and extends along the lower foothills of Nelliyampathies bordering the Palakkad gap in Thrissur district. This 125 sq km sanctuary is contiguous along its south eastern boundary with Chimmony WLS (90 sq km) occupying the western slopes of Nelliyampathies. The moist deciduous forests of the Trichur Peechi Vazhani national park are a haven for a variety of wildlife that consists of many rare species of animals, birds and plants as well. The sanctuary is situated in the basin of the Peechi and Vazhani dams of Trichur.
This sanctuary was established in the year 1958 in Kerala. There is a rich variety of flora and fauna in this sanctuary. One can find more than 60 varieties of plants that include rosewood, teakwood and orchids along with plants of medicinal value. Among the wildlife, one can find animals like leopards, sambar deer, wild dogs, barking deer, spotted deer, bison and elephants.
You can also find many types of snakes and other reptiles here. There is a hill near the sanctuary known as the Ponmudi peak, which goes up to a height of 923 meters. Take a trek on this peak and look at the breath-taking view of the sanctuary from the top of the peak.

Parambikulam WLS

Spread over an area of 285 sq km, Parambikulam WLS shares an eastern border with Anaimalai WLS.The sanctuary lies in between the Anamalai hills and Nelliyampathy hills. Much of the sanctuary is part of Anamalai hills with peaks up to 1,438m (Karimala Gopuram) in the southern boundary of the sanctuary, 1,120m (Vengoli malai) in the eastern boundary, 1,010m (Puliyarapadam) in the west and 1,290m (Pandaravarai peak) in the north. Though the sanctuary is blessed with rain during both South West monsoon and North East monsoon, the former contributes maximum to the total precipitation recorded in the sanctuary. In addition, pre-monsoon showers are experienced during April and May.

Eravikulam National Park

Originally established to protect the Nilgiri Tahr, the Eravikulam Park is situated in Devikulam taluk of the Idukki district. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1975, and considering its ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared as a National Park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 sq km of rolling grasslands and high level shoalas. The park is breath-takingly beautiful and is comparable to the best of mountain ranges in the Alps.The area is undulating, dotted with grass hillocks and sholas. Anamudi (2694m), the highest peak, south of the Himalays, is situated in the south of the park.The area receives heavy rains during both the monsoons. This is one of the wettest areas of the world. During the winter months of December to February, the occurrence of frost is quite common.The major portion of this area is covered with grasslands, but there are several patches of sholas seen in hollows and valleys..Tiger, panther and wild dogs are usually sighted in both the open grass land sholas forests. Civet cat and jungle cat also live in the sholas. Sloth bear, Nilgiri langur and wild boar are generally found in sholas and their fringes. The Atlas moth, the largest of its kind in the world, is seen in this park. The population of the world famous Nilgiri Tahr is 1317 according to the 1991 census.

 

Nilgiri Tahr – Pic by Mohan Pai

Chinnar WLS

Lying at Devikulam taluk of Idukki district, Chinnar was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1984. It is located in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. It is the second habitat for the endangered giant grizzled squirrel in India. With an area of 90.422 sq. Km, Chinnar has the unique thorny scrub forest with Xerophytic species.The undulated terrain with rocky patches increases the scenic splendour of the sanctuary. As the altitude varies from 500 to 2,400 meters within a few kilometer radius, there is a drastic variation in the climate and vegetation. The highest peaks are Kottakombumalai (2144m), Vellaikal malai (1863m) and Viriyoottu malai (1845m). Unlike in most other forests of Kerala, Chinnar gets only about 48 rainy days in a year during October-November (Northeast monsoons). The forest types comprise thorny scrub forests, dry deciduous forest, high sholas and wet grasslands.

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary

The one and only sanctuary of its kind in Kerala, the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary was constituted in 1983. Situated in Eranakulam district, this bird sanctuary is a feast to the eyes and music to the ears. Several kinds of birds usually found in South India are seen here. The famous ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali, was the architect of this sanctuary. He is reported to have identified 167 birds and his student, Dr. Sugathan, 207. In addition, the Bombay Natural History Society has identified 253 kinds of birds. Spread over an extent of 25.16 sq.kms, Thattekkad attracts nature lovers from far and wide. As is common on the Western Ghats, the terrain is undulating and elevation ranges between 35m and 523m. The tallest point is the Njayapilli peak (523m high).
Lake : the sancutary is the catchment area of Bhoothanthankett dam. Maximum depth 15m. The flora consists of tropical evergreen forests, tropical semi-evergreen forests and tropical deciduous forests. There are patches of grasslands also.

Fauna

The elephant is an occasional visitor. Leopard, bear, porcupine, python and cobra are sighted.BirdsIndian roller, cuckoo, common snipe, crow pheasant, jungle nightjar, kite, grey drongo, Malabar trogon, woodpeckeer, large pied wagtail, baya sparrow, grey jungle fowl, Indian hill myna, robin bird, jungle babbler and darter.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls – Pic by Mohan Pai

Rare Birds

Crimson-throated barbet, bee-eater, sunbird, shrike, fairy blue-bird, grey-headed fishing eagle, blackwinged kite, night heron, grey heron, Malabar shama, common grey hornbill and Malabar hornbill.

 

Idukki WLS

Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary which came into existence in 1976, spreads over an area of 77sq. Km. within Thodupuzha and Udumbanchola taluks in Idukki district. This wild life sanctuary with a plenty of elephants is blessed with different kinds of flora and fauna. The world famous Idukki arch dam and the vast lake increase the importance of this place. Before the formation of Shenduruny as a wildlife sanctuary, the area was under the Thenmala Forest Division. Both clear felling and selection felling were once practised in this area to a large extent. Large tracts of forests were clearfelled and such areas were converted to plantations. Besides, the widening of the Thiruvananthapuram – Shencottah road (T.S.Road) during the 40’s also enhanced the deterioration of the Shenduruny forests. Despite all these disturbances the fauna status of Shenduruny valley was found to be some what well, especially in the eastern mountainous zone. So, according to the recommendations by the Quilon Circle Committee report, the Government declared Shenduruny as wildlife sanctuary on August 25, 1984.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

Periyar Tiger reserve lies in the districts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta. The protected area covers an area of 777 km², out of which a 350 km² part of the core zone was made into the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, sometimes dubbed the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The park is often called by the name Thekkady also. Thekkady is located four km from Kumily, approximately 100 km east of Alappuzha, 110 km west of Madurai and 120 km southeast from Kochi.

Periyar Lake – Pic by Mohan Pai

 

The Periyar protected area lies in the middle of a mountainous area of the Cardamom Hills. In the north and the east it is bounded by mountain ridges of over 1700 metres altitude and toward the west it expands into a 1200 Meter high plateau. From this level the altitude drops steeply to the deepest point of the reserve, the 100 Meter valley of the Pamba River. The highest peak is the 2019 Meter high Kottamalai.The sanctuary surrounds picturesque 26 km² Periyar lake, formed by the building of Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895. This reservoir and the Periyar River meander around the contours of the wooded hills, providing a permanent source of water for the local wildlife.The temperatures vary depending upon the altitude and it ranges between 15° Celsius in December and January and 31° Celsius in April and May. The annual amount of precipitation lies between 2000 and 3000 mm. About two thirds of the precipitation occurs during the south west monsoon between June to September. A smaller amount of precipitation occurs during the north east monsoon between October and December.

Elephant herd

 

Approximately 75% of the entire area is covered with evergreen or semi-evergreen rain forest. They are typically tall tropical tree species reaching heights of 40 to 50 Metres. Scarcely 13% consists of damp leaves forest, 7% of Eucalyptus plantation and 1.5% of grassland. The remainder (around 3.5%) of the protected area is covered by the Periyar artificial lake as well as the Periyar River and Pamba rivers.Altogether 62 different kinds of mammal have been recorded in Periyar, including many threatened ones. There are an estimated 24 tigers in the reserve. Tourists also come here to view the Indian elephants in the act of ablution and playfulness by the Periyar lake. The elephant number around 900 to 1000 individuals. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose, foxes and leopards. Also inhabiting the park, though rarely seen, are the elusive Nilgiri tahr.Four species of primates are found at Periyar – the rare lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri Langur, the common langur, and the Bonnet Macaque.So far 320 different kinds have been counted in Periyar. The bird life includes darters, cormorants, kingfishers, the great Malabar hornbill and racket-tailed Drongos.There are 45 different kinds of reptile in the protected area out of which there are 30 snake, two turtle, and 13 lizard species. Among those are Monitor lizards that can be spotted basking in the sun on the rocks along the lake shore. Visitors who trek into the Periyar national park often see a Python and sometimes even a King Cobra.

Dhole (Wild Dogs)

 

 

Hill Stations in the High Ranges

 


Kodaikanal
The first permanent homes in Kodaikanal were erected by a group of American missionaries, who had been based in Madurai who suffered many deaths from a fearful attack of cholera. They built a bungalow in Sirmalai hills, but its altitude of 4,000 ft gave some relief from the after effects of cholera, but not from malaria. They appealed to the British to help locate a more suitable site and soon the first two crude bungalows, named Sunnyside and Shelton, had appeared in Kodaikanal basin and six American families moved in. Soon British neighbours settled around them and Kodaikanal was on the map of South India.
Kodaikanal because of its situation is protected from the heavy monsoons which deluge nearby ranges from May to September. As light rain falls throughout the year the region is spared the occasional dry spells and water shortages which affect the Nilgiris. The scenery with its grassy rolling downs and beautiful little shola woods and perennial streams flowing through them attracted the Europeans.

 

 

Munnar
Munnar, at 1,652 metres (5,420 ft), is a small town surrounded by the Anaimalai Hills and tea estates. It stands at the confluence of three rivers – the Muthirappuzha, Nallathani and Kundala. Moonu in Tamil means ‘three’ and aar ‘river’.

Club House at Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai

The highest peak in South India – Anaimudi 2,695 m is just 20 kms from Munnar. Munnar was the favourite summer resort of European settlers for centuries but has taken place on the tourism map of India only recently. It was the best-kept secret among hill station destinations.
Until the second half of the 19th century, Munnar was part of an inhospitable and inaccessible area of thickly forested mountains. Its sole inhabitants were a tribal community called the Madhuvans, expert hunters and gatherers, who practised slash and burn cultivation. They still retain their customs although the pressures of modern life are eroding them. Officially Munnar belonged to the Poonjar Rajas of the state of Travancore.The first European to venture into the area
appears to have been the Duke of Wellington, when, as Colonel Arthur Wellesly, he marched across the ghats to fight Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in 1790. With Tipu’s defeat, though not at the hands of Wellington’s column, British influence in Kerala became supreme. Malabar was annexed from Mysore and the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin were subject to British interference.

Tea Gardens of Munnar – Pic by Mohan Pai
The year 1887 marked the beginning of the opening up of the High Ranges. John Daniel Munro of Pimmede, an officer of Travancore state and superintendent of the Cardamom hills leased the hill tract from the government. Munroe explored the area by following elephant paths and began to bring planters, mainly Scots, to join him in clearing the jungle. Life for pioneers was hard.
In the 1890s, The Finlay Muir company moved into the hills and persuaded some of the proprietary planters to work for them. The company came to control almost all the estates in the area and its name is still preserved in the Indian company, Tata Finlay Ltd, which now owns them.Finlay Muir’s arrival did not make life any easier on the plantations. The hills were still inaccessible, except from the Tamil Nadu side. And so Tamil labourers were brought up to man the estates. Planters experimented with rubber and chinchona before settling for tea which was transported by ropeways from Top Station outside Munnar to Bottom Station where it was packed in Imperial Chests shipped out from Britain and despatched to Tuticorin harbour. In 1908 a light railway was opened to take the tea from Munnar to Top Station, but it was destroyed by floods in 1924. In 1931, the ghat road from the Cochin side to Munnar was finally opened and Top Station was no longer needed to transport the tea.

Muthirapuza river – Pic by Mohan Pai

 

There are roads to Munnar from Cochin, 224 km to the west, and Thekkady, 117 km away. There is also a mountain road which links Munnar with Kodaikanal only 92 km to the east. This road is extremely beautiful and lonely. Munnar has now become quite a popular hill station with many tourist resorts.

Thekkady
Thekkady, at an elevation of 3,300 ft above sea level has become a popular tiger reserve and is set around Periyar lake. Periyar lake itself is an artificial lake formed during the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam in 1895 – that explains the dead tree trunks and branches sticking out of the water. These trees were submerged in the waters of the dam. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 777 sq. km, roughly half of which is dense evergreen forest, savannah grassland and moist deciduous forest.
The sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve in 1978 under Project Tiger, and so the name Periyar Tiger Reserve is sometimes used to denote the place as well. Thekkady Junction is the central part of the Periyar sanctuary, and has a number of tourist resorts.

Nelliyampathy
Nelliyampathy is another hill station destination which is becoming popular of late. This is a small, tea-and-orange hill station situated 75 km from Palakkad and 40 km south of Nenmara, the nearest town.
Nelliyampathy is in the midst of evergreen forests and orange plantations. The forests are part of the Sahya Range of the Western Ghats. There are a number of hill resorts at the top including one run by Kerala District Tourist Promotion Council.
Nelliyampathy Reservoir – Pic by Mohan Pai

Pre-historic artefacts have been found around Kodaikanal, indicating that it was once the home of now forgotten people who left behind mysterious megalithic structures, burial grounds, and tombs containing copper and brass implements and ornaments. In 1834 the collector of Madurai, built a house at the head of Shembagannur pass and the development of Kodaikanal began. Kodaikanal is situated on the upper crust of the Palni Hills at an elevation of 2000 m.

References:

Sathis Chandran Nair “The High Ranges” published by INTACH 1994, Information & Public Relations Dept, Government of Kerala, Wikipedia, Mohan Pai “The Western Ghats” 2005.

 

Biodiversity of Kodagu (Coorg), India

An Article by Mohan Pai
KODAGU (Coorg)
 
Nisargadhama, Kodagu – Pic by Mohan Pai
THE LAND OF COFFEE, PEPPER, HONEY AND ORANGES
WITH AN ALPINE LANDSCAPE, KODAGU IS CALLED
 “THE SCOTLAND” OF INDIA.
“Standing on a bright November morning on the summit of the Brahmagiri near Tala-Kaveri the observer is filled with delight and admiration of the grand and picturesque view, that opens out before him. As far as the I can to the north-west and south-east it beholds ridge after ridge of grassy forest-clad hills, now gently sloping down in gentle wavy lines, now bold and abrupt, raising their steep summits into the clear, blue air. Kudremukh-betta, the far seen landmark of the mariner, bursts into view from Canara; the Bettadapur and Chamundi hill in Mysore, the Wayanad mountains of Malabar and Dodda-betta of the distant Nilgiris are clearly visible, and in the west at a distance of about 30 miles below the steep precipices of the Ghats the coast-line of North Malabar and South Canara, intersected by broad, bright, serpentine rivers and the dark-blue Indian Ocean with its sailing craft fascinate the spectator.”
“Coorg itself is covered by forest, save here and there where the clearing of a coffee plantation or ragi patch or the park-like open glades (Bane) with their beautiful green sward and varied foliage afford a charming variety of landscape. In vain, however, the eye searches for towns and villages, churches and castles or other indications of civilized life. Only here and there in nooks and corners, ensconced amongst groves and clusters of cultivated trees and betrayed by wreath of smoke, can one discover the thatched houses of the Coorgs, who love solitary abodes near their fields.”
– G. Richter in Gazetteer of Coorg (1870 edition)
Landscape
Kodagu has all the characteristics of an alpine landscape and is called “Scotland of India”. Kodagu in Kannada means “steep mountains”. Over 4,000 sq km of undulating topography carpeted in just about every green shade possible, Kodagu is really a fascinating dreamland.
Kodagu is the smallest district of Karnataka State in Southern India. It is also known by its anglicised name of Coorg. It occupies about 4,100 square kilometers (1,580 mi²) of land in the Western Ghats of Southwestern Karnataka. The district is bordered by the Dakshina Kannada District to the Northwest, the Hassan District to the North, the Mysore District to the East, the Kannur District of Kerala State to the Southwest, and the Wayanad District of Kerala to the South.
In Kodagu, the Western Ghats’ main range extends from Subramanya in the north-west to the Brahmagiris in the south, the distance being a wide green swathe spanning over 100 km.
Kodagu is on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. It is a hilly district with the lowest elevation in the district at 900 meters (2,900 ft) above sea-level.The main river in Kodagu is the Kaveri (Cauvery) River. The Kaveri starts at Talakaveri, located on the eastern side of the Western Ghats, and, with its east-flowing tributaries – Hemavati, Harangi and Lakshmitirtha, drains the greater part of Kodagu. Payaswani and Bara Pole are the two west-flowing rivers. In the rainy season, particularly during the southwest monsoons from June to the end of September, the currents are violent and rapid. In July and August, rainfall is intense, and there are often rain showers into November. Yearly rainfall may exceed 4,000 millimeters (160 in) in some areas. In dense jungle tracts, rainfall reaches 3,000 to 3,800 millimeters (120 to 150 in) and 1,500 to 2,500 millimeters (60 to 100 in) in the Bamboo District to the west. Kodagu has an average temperature of 15°C (59°F), ranging from 11 to 28°C (52 to 82°F), with the highest temperatures occurring in April and May.Much of the district is under cultivation: characteristically, rice fields are found on the valley floors, with plantation crops under tree cover in the surrounding hills. The most common plantation crop is coffee, especially C. robusta, with C. Arabica. Many other crops are also grown, including black pepper, para rubber, teak, and cocoa. There are also large areas of natural forest, especially in the forest reserves in the south and east.
Brahmagiris with typical paddy fields – Pic by Mohan Pai
The country forms a portion of the Western Ghats with the high range running north-south along the western side of the district. The range has a bulging towards west at Brahmagiri. The prominent peaks are Pushpagiri(1715 m), Kote Betta, Nishani Motte, Tumbe Male. Tadiandamol (1750 m, highest), Soma Male and Brahmagiri (Davasibetta) the birth place of Lakshmanathirtha river. High hill tops are generally grassy with valley of dense mixed jungles and cardamom plantation. Low hill ranges are generally under cultivation, teak plantation or dense mixed jungle.
Bisale Ghat – Pic by Mohan Pai
Kodagu is a rural region with most of the economy based on agriculture, plantations and forestry, and is one of the more prosperous parts of Karnataka. This is due primarily to coffee production and other plantation crops.Rice and other crops are cultivated in the valleys.In recent years tourism has also begun to play a role in the economy. Eco-tourism, such as walking- and trekking-tours, take advantage of plantation buildings converted into guest-houses.The Kodavas were the earliest agriculturists in Kodagu, living in that place for centuries. Nayakas and Palegaras like Chengalvas and Kongalvas ruled over them. Over centuries several South Indian dynasties, like the Kadambas, the Gangas, the Cholas, the Chalukyas, the Rastrakutas, the Hoysalas,and the Vijaynagar Rayas, ruled over Kodagu.Kodagu was a kingdom ruled by the Hoysalas from the 11th to the 14th century CE, and thereafter by the Vijayanagar and the Chengalvas. The Haleri Rajas of Kodagu ruled from the 17th to the 19th century. In between the Mysore Sultans invaded and ruled Kodagu for a couple of decades in the eighteenth century.The British annexed Kodagu in 1834, after dethroning Chikkaveerarajendra the last Haleri Raja. The province was administered by Chief Commissioners until Indian Independence in 1948.
Madikere Town – Pic by Mohan Pai
The principal town, and District Capital, is Madikeri, or Mercara, with a population of around 30,000. Other significant towns include Virajpet (Viraranjendrapet) and Somwarpet. The district is divided into the three administrative Talukas (Divisions) of Madikeri, Virajpet and Somwarpet.

Tribal Population

Kodagu has been inhabited by various tribes for centuries although some have immigrated at more recent period from the adjoining areas of Kerala. The more prominent tribals are: Binepadas, Airis, Madivalas, Kavatis, Nainda, Koyuvas, Kudiyas, Medas, Holeyas, Pales, Maleyas, Kurubas, Jenu-Kurubas, Betta-Kurubas, Adias, Yeravas and Kaplas.

Kodagu has approximately 65 per cent of its geographical area under tree cover, making it one of the most densely forested districts in the country.

Flora

The flora of the jungle includes Michelia champaca (Champak), Mesua (Ironwood), Diospyros (Ebony and other species), Toona ciliata (Indian mahogany), Chukrasia tabularis, Calophyllum angustifolium (Poon spar), Canarium strictum (Black Dammar), Artocarpus, Dipterocarpus, Garcinia, Euonymus, Cinnamomum, Myristica, Vaccinium, Myrtaceae, Melastomataceae, Rubus (three species), and a rose. In the undergrowth are found cardamom, Areca, plantains, canes, wild Black pepper, tree and other ferns, and arums.In the forest of the less thickly-wooded bamboo country in the west of Kodagu the most common trees are the Dalbergia latifolia (Black wood), Pterocarpus marsupium (Kino tree), Terminalia tomentosa (Matthi), Lagerstroemia parviflora (Benteak), Anogeissus latifolia (Dindul), Bassia latifolia, Butea monosperma, Nauclea parvifiora, and several species of Acacia. Teak and Sandalwood also grow in the eastern part of the district.

 

 

The rich floristic diversity of Kodagu consists of more than 8.8% of floral diversity of Karnataka 1332 species. Kodagu has 65% of its Geographical area under the tree cover. More than 50% of the plants have medicinal value. Nearly 53% of the flora of Kodagu is endemic. It has been confirmed in the study that the district is also a hotspot of endemic orchids found mainly in the Thadiandamol.

Devarakadu (Sacred groves)

There is a large number of sacred groves in Kodagu (about 1214), which are pockets of forests, ear-marked as bio-buffers, to worship various deities. This has led to some excellent field ecological research, as well as documentation of people’s knowledge and perception of nature. This has motivated local public to form their own committees to preserve and protect these valuable pockets of forests.

Coorg & Coffee

Coffee estates were first started in Kodagu in 1854 by the Britishers.Coffee plantations became characteristic of the district in the 20th century, situated on hillsides too steep for growing rice, and taking advantage of shade from existing forests. Today coffee is a major cash crop. Nearly a third of coffee production of India comes from Kodagu. The most common plantation crop is coffee, especially C. robusta, with C. arabica grown in some parts of southern Kodagu. Over 77,000 hectare of land in Kodagu is under coffee cultivation as against only 40,000 hectares under paddy cultivation. There is a Coffee Research sub-station at Chettali.



PROTECTED AREAS

To the North West of the source of river Cauvery is Tala Cauvery wild life sanctuary. The other sanctuaries in kodagu are the Pusphagiri wild life sanctuary, Brahmagiri wild life sanctuary, Nagarhole national park which is a protected area of world repute and also situated in Kodagu which is a part of the Nilgiri Bio-Sphere Reserve. The hills and valleys are protected areas covered with forest land are famous habitats of tiger, elephants, panther, leopard, sambar, wild boar, lion-tailed macaque, wild dogs, bison, deer and many others animals. Kodagu is also rich in avifauna with about 305 listed species. Some rare birds too make their home in these forests. Famous amongst them are the grey horn bill and the great pied horn bill. Nearly 25 varieties of snakes including four poisonous ones, hamadryad, cobra, krait and viper with many species of butterflies and moths are found distributed all over Kodagu.

 Nagarhole National Park

Nagarhole National Park, also known as ‘Rajiv Gandhi National Park,’ is located 94 km from Mysore. It is spread between Kodagu and Mysore districts. Located to the northwest of Bandipur National Park, Kabini reservoir separates the two. The exclusive hunting reserve of the former rulers of Mysore, the park has rich forest cover, small streams, valleys, and waterfalls. In 1975 its area stretched to 575 km².The place derives its name from Kannada, Naga meaning snake and hole referring to streams. Set up in 1955, it is one of the best-managed parks in the country, with the office of the Deputy Conservator of Forests situated in Hunsur, about 47 km away from Nagarhole.

 

 

The climate is tropical; summer is hot and winter is pleasant. The park boasts a healthy tiger-predator ratio, and tiger, bison, and elephant are much more populous here than in Bandipur.The park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Nagarhole National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Terrain

With the backdrop of misty Brahmagiri hill ranges and it’s thickly forested and gently undulating terrai, criss-crossed with many rivers and streams, Nagarhole is naturalists dreamland. Masal Betta (959 m) located on the south-west fringes of the park is the highest point, and Kabini River is the lowest point at 701 m above sea level. Mostly moist mixed deciduous forest (Tectona grandis, Dalbergia latifolia) in the southern parts, dry tropical forest (Wrightia tinctoria, Acacia) towards the east, and Sub mountain hill valley swamp forest (Eugenia).

Gaur

Mammals:
Elephant, Jackal ,Tiger, Panther, Gaur, Muntjac, Sambar, Spotted deer, Mongoose, Civet cat, Hyena, Dhole, Wild Boar, Striped Hyena, Sloth Bear, Leopard Cat, Jungle Cat, Mongoose, Muntjac, Mouse Dear, Slender Loris, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Porcupine, Pangolin,Reptiles: Marsh Crocodile, King Cobra, Krait, Python, Viper, Tortoise, Monitor Lizard ,Toads etc.The main trees found are Rosewood, Teak, Sandalwood and Silver oak.

Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary
This sanctuary is located in the northern part of Kodagu and has some attractive scenery. It is home to rare and endangered birdlife and is designated as one of the important bird areas of the world. The rich Kadamakkal reserve forest is a part of the sanctuary. Pushpagiri is the highest peak in it. Kumaraparvat (Kumaraparvatha) is the other peak that lies within it. The sanctuary adjoins Bisle reserve forest to north and Kukke Subramanya forest range to the west.The Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary has been proposed as a World Heritage Site.
Black Bulbul
Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary is located near Mandalpatty in Kodagu District, Karnataka. Spread over 102 sq km, the sanctuary is situated in the Western Ghats and has thick evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. It is home to elephants, leopards, jungle cats, wild pigs, spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, jackals, hare, common mongoose, common otter, small Indian civet, common palm civet and porcupine. The sanctuary can be reached by road from Mysore via Madikeri (120 km). From Madikeri, the sanctuary is 25 km.
Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary
The Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary is located in the Kodagu district and covers an area of 181 sq km. It has evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, as well as shola-grassland habitat. The Sanctuary is surrounded by agricultural fields and coffee plantations. The eastern tip of the Sanctuary almost touches the northwestern edge of the Nagarahole National Park, separated only by a narrow strip of coffee plantations. The sanctuary derives its name from the highest point, the Brahmagiri peak, which is 1607 m in height. The temperature here ranges from 5° to 32°C, and mean annual rainfall varies from 2500 to 6000 mm.
FLORA:The area has mainly evergreen and semi-evergreen forest, and in the higher altitudes, there are grasslands with shola forest patches. Bamboos are well represented in these forests, with Bambusa bambos being dominant.The sholas are made up of dwarf evergreen trees or ‘krummholz’, stunted due to the strong winds at higher altitudes. Sholas are surrounded by grasslands.
FAUNA:Mammals in the Sanctuary include elephant, gaur, tiger, jungle cat, leopard cat, wild dog, sloth bear, wild pig, sambar, spotted deer, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur, slender loris, bonnet macaque, common langur, barking deer, mouse deer, Malabar giant squirrel, giant flying squirrel, Nilgiri marten, common otter, brown mongoose, civets, porcupine and pangolin. Python, cobra and king cobra are some of the snakes found in the Sanctuary. Interesting birds in the Sanctuary include emerald dove, black bulbul and Malabar trogon.
Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuary
Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary: This is located in Kodagu district and is spread over 105.00 km². Albizzia lebbek, Artocarpus lakoocha, Dysoxylum malabaricum and Mesua ferrea’ are some of the species of flora found here. Clawless otter, elephant, tiger, striped necked mongoose and mouse deer are some of the animal species found here. Fairy bluebird, Malabar trogon and broadbilled roller are some of the avian species found.
Places of Interest 
Talakaveri – Pic by Mohan Pai
Talakaveri: the place where the River Kaveri originates. The temple on the river banks here is dedicated to lord Brahma, and is one of only few temples dedicated to Brahma in India and Southeast Asia.
Bhagamandala: situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Kaveri and the Kanika. A third river, the Sujyothi, is said to join from underground.
Kaveri Nisargadhama:
This lovely Tourist Attraction, is built in a natural Island of River Kaveri is a Treat to watch. It has Boating, Elephant Safari, Hanging Bridge and a Deer Park as some of the attractions.


Nisargadhama

 

A big attraction for tourists and filmdom alike is the Abbey Falls, 8 km from Madikeri. Even during the summer there is plenty of water in these falls. The roar of the falls can be heard from the main road, from where a path goes through lovely coffee and cardamom plantations right up to them. The chirping of innumerable birds which are easier heard then seen, fill the air with sweet music

.

Abbey Falls, pic by Mohan Pai
A big attraction for tourists and filmdom alike is the Abbey Falls, 8 km from Madikeri. Even during the summer there is plenty of water in these falls. The roar of the falls can be heard from the main road, from where a path goes through lovely coffee and cardamom plantations right up to them. The chirping of innumerable birds which are easier heard then seen, fill the air with sweet music.
One of the unique places to visit is the Tibetan Colony in Bylekuppe near Kushalnagar. This is Little Tibet. There are Buddhist monasteries, temples and buildings built in typical Tibetan style.
The Golden Temple – Pic by Mohan Pai
This entire area of about 1500 acres is home to the Tibetans displaced from their homeland during 1962. It is now the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Tibet! Tibetans are enterprising and hardworking people who have turned this once barren area into highly productive agricultural land. This place is also known for many typically Tibetan handicrafts, especially their exquisite carpets.
Golden Buddha, Bylekuppe
Dubare
This is mainly an elephant capturing and training camp of the Forest Department, at the edge of Dubare forest, on the bank of river Kaveri, on the Kushalnagar – Siddapur road. The largest land animal is captured here with the help of tamed elephants and local tribals – the Kurbas – and is held captive for up to 6 months in large teak wood cages.
Dubare – Pic by Mohan Pai
The tamed elephants attend to various jobs during the day and in the evenings they come down to the river to bathe and to be scrubbed clean by their mahouts. Afterwards the mahout obliges eager tourists for free elephant rides within the camp. In the evenings, all the elephants are offered a special treat of ladoos made of ragi and jaggery, each no smaller than a cannon ball!
Nalknad Palace :
– Built by Doddaveerarajendra in 1792 A.D. safe in the depths of a dense jungle at the base of Tadiyandamol, this elegant two-storied palace served as the last refuge for Chickaveerarajendra before he surrendered to the British in A.D. 1834.
Nalknad Palace – pic by Mohan Pai
Ornamental pillars and verandahs with carved windows and door frames are its notable features.
Iruppu Falls:
A sacred spot in south Kodagu in the Brahmagiri hill range. The [Lakshmana Tirtha River] flows nearby. Legend says that Rama and Lakshmana passed this way while searching for Sita. Sri Rama asked Lakshmana to fetch some drinking water for him. Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri hills and brought into being the river Lakshmanatirtha. The river descends into a cataract known as the Iruppu Falls. This place is said to possess the power to cleanse one’s sins and is visited by thousands of devotees on Shivaratri day.
Omkareshwara Temple, Madikeri which has a Gothic and Islamic style of architecture was built by Lingaraja in the year 1820.
Omkareshwara Temple, Madikeri – pic by Mohan Pai
The Shiva linga installed inside the temple is believed to be brought from Kashi
Gaddige, Madikeri
Gaddige or the tombs of Virarajendra and Lingarajendra at Madikeri is one of the important monuments of Coorg. The royal tombs on a hillock to the north of Madikeri provides a commanding view of the town. Lingarajendra’s tomb was built in 1820. There are also the tombs of a Raja’s priest and that of two army commanders. A commemorative plaque, eulogizing the bravery of General Biddanda Bopu who fought Tipu Sultan has been recorded by Dodda Veerarajendra in an inscription.
Gaddige, Madikeri – pic by Mohan Pai
The tombs are in the style of Muhammadan edifices with domes in the center and turrets at the angles. The bars of windows made of brass have fine engravings.
Harangi Dam is a beautiful reservoir situated in north Kodagu, in Kodagu District in Karnataka.
Harangi Dam – pic by Mohan Pai
This large and impressive dam is on the Kaveri River in idyllic and serene surroundings. The dam is an ideal place for picnic, and there are some short walks along designated paths.
References: Gazeteer of Coorg (1870) by G. Richter, Feathered jewels of Coorg by Dr. S. V.Narasimhan, Wikipedia.

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, The Western Ghats, India

An Article by Mohan Pai

Agasthyamalai

Biosphere

Reserve

Abode of Sage Agasthya, one of the seven Rishish of the Hindu Mythology.
Tamil language is considered as a boon from this sage.
The southernmost reaches of the Western Ghats, i.e. The Agasthyamalai Range extends from Mahendragiri near Kanyakumari in the extreme south to the Ariyankavu Pass near Shenkottai. The Agasthyamalai Range continues into Tamil Nadu, south of the Kerala border. This is the only part of the Western Ghats where some stretch of the western slopes are also in Tamil Nadu.Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve straddles the border of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram Districts in Kerala and Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu, at the southern end of the Western Ghats. The Biosphere lies Between 8° 8′ to 9° 10′ North Latitude and 76° 52′ to 77° 34′ East Longitude. Central location is 8°39’N 77°13’E / 8.65, 77.217.It is composed of Neyyar, Peppara and Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuaries and their adjoining areas of Achencoil,Thenmala, Konni, Punalur, Thiruvananthapuram Divisions and Agasthyavanam Special Division in Kerala. Inclusion of adjoining areas of Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu has been approved. The reserve now covers parts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta Districts in Kerala.The Reserve includes the Indian Ecoregions of South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, South Western Ghats montane rain forests and Shola. It is the habitat for 2,000 varieties of medicinal plants, of which at least 50 are rare and endangered species. Rare animals include the tiger, Asian Elephant, and Nilgiri Tahr. Agastyamalai is also home to the Kanikaran, one of the oldest surviving ancient tribes in the world.
The total area of the Bio-sphere reserve is 3500.36 Sq. Km out of which 1828 Sq. Km. is in Kerala and 1672.36 Sq. Km. is in Tamil Nadu. The Bio-sphere Reserve now covers parts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari District in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta District in Kerala.
The Biosphere reserve is split into three major zones viz. Core Zone, Buffer Zone and Transition Zone.
Kerala the break up for the above three zones are as follows:
Core Zone 352 Sq. Km
Buffer Zone 691 Sq. Km.
Transition Zone 1828 Sq. Km.
The sanctuaries covered are Neyyar, Peppara and Shenguruny sanctuaries.
In Tamil Nadu the break up for the above three zones are as follows:
Core Zone 691 Sq. Km
Buffer Zone 198.36 Sq. Km.
Transition Zone 1672.36 Sq. Km.
The sanctuaries covered are Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
Thenmala forest
This region, extending to nearly 3,500 sq. km., is considered the richest bio-geographic province in the Indian sub-continent. A sizable portion of the proposed biosphere reserve enjoys protected status at present. The biosphere concept recognises the need to involve the people subsisting on the resources of the region in the conservation efforts. The flow of funds under the programme targets the uplift of these people so that their dependence on the biological resources is brought to a sustainable level. The programme also lays stress on research and monitoring activities, documentation of the resources, environmental education and training and international interaction at a scientific level. The idea of setting up a biosphere reserve for this region was first mooted by Kerala in February, 1999. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department was all support for the suggestion and the two sides agreed to commission the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, to prepare a detailed report on the proposal. The proposed biosphere reserve is a natural unit of mountain system at the southern end of the peninsula, cut off from the rest of the Western Ghats by a narrow pass known as the Aryankavu Pass or the Shencotta Pass. It has the largest tract of untouched rain forests in peninsular India. The core area falls within the protected areas of Neyyar, Peppara and Shenduruny wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala and Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu. It is fairly undisturbed and extends to nearly 1,000 sq. km. The buffer zone lies within the wildlife sanctuaries and the tiger reserve and occupies an area of approximately 1,500 sq. km. In both the States, diverse eco-development activities are currently in progress, especially on the fringe areas of the forest tracts where people depend on the forest resources for their living. The biosphere reserve also includes a transition zone, which covers an area of 1,000 sq. km. The Kerala portion of this zone is actually wedged between the northern Shenduruny sanctuary and the southern Neyyar and Peppara sanctuaries. In Tamil Nadu, the transition zone is situated, on the northern part, around Kuttalam where a lot of seasonal tourist activities are promoted. The proposed Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve is a pristine paleotropic region with a very high floral endemism and tremendously rich biodiversity, locked up in an area exhibiting an overall representation of the biota of the southern Western Ghats. The site represents the richest centre of endemic plants, abode of all vegetation types met within the peninsula, richest repository of medicinal plants, the southern-most haven of endangered animals including primates, amphibians, reptiles and fishes and a treasure house of wild relatives of domesticated crops.
Agasthya Malai (Agastyarkoodam) is a peak of 1868 m in the Western Ghats. This mountain falls in the Tirunelveli District and Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu and the Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala, south India.It is a pilgrim centre, where devotees come to worship sage Agasthyar. Agasthyar was a Dravidian sage, and is considered to be one of the seven Rishis (Saptarishi) of Hindu mythology. The Tamil language is considered to be a boon from Agasthyar. There is a full-sized statue of Agasthyar at the top of the peak and the devotees can render poojas themselves.
Europeans, particularly those from England, were the first to establish tea gardens around the base stations of Agasthyarkoodam at Brimore, Bonacaud and Ponmudi. It is the abode of rare flora and fauna and even wild animals. Shirodhara, one of the healing techniques of Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a form of alternative medicine in use primarily in the Indian subcontinent.
Protected Areas
Kalkad-Mundanthurai Tiger reserve
Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), situated in the Southern Western Ghats in Tirunelveli district, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is the second largest protected area in Tamil Nadu State. This reserve was created in 1988 by combining Kalakad Wildlife Sanctuary (251 km²) and Mundanthurai Wildlife Sanctuary (567 km²), both established in 1962. Notification of 77 km² of parts of Veerapuli and Kilamalai Reserve Forests in adjacent Kanyakumari district, added to the reserve in April 1996, is pending. A 400 km² (154.4 sq mi) core area of this reserve has been proposed as a National Park.
This Reserve is situated in the south Western Ghats of India about 45 km west of Tirunelveli town. It is bound by forests in west, north and south and by villages in the east. Agasthiarmalai (1681 mtrs) which falls within the core zone of the Reserve is the 3rd highest peak in South India. Part of Agasthyamalai hills in the core of the Reserve is considered one of the five centres of plant diversity and endemism in India (IUCN). The topography is undulating. This is the only area of Western Ghats which has longest raining period of about 8 months,and it is the only non-dipterocarp evergreen forest in the region. It is floristically very different from other sites.
The rich forests of the Reserve form the catchment area for 14 rivers and streams. Among them the Tambraparani, Ramanadi, Karayar, Servalar, Manimuthar, Pachayar, Kodaiyar, Kadnar, Kallar form the back-bone of the irrigation network and drinking water for people of Tirunelveli, Turicorin and part of Kanyakumari district. Sever major dams – Karaiyar, Lower Dam, Servalar, Manimuthar, Ramanadi, Kadnanadi and Kodaiyar – owe their existence to these rivers.
Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary
 Sprawling over an area of 128 sq km, the Neyyar Dam and Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most frequented and beautiful wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala. Tucked away in the southeast region of the Western Ghats, this Kerala wildlife sanctuary has vegetation from tropical wet evergreen forests to grasslands. It was notified as a wildlife sanctuary in 1958. It is the catchment area for the Neyyar River, Mullayar and Kallar. The wooded forests and hills of the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary offer shelter to rich and diverse flora and fauna. The wildlife includes Elephants, Nilgiri Tahrs , Sambhars, Tigers, Gaur, Wild Boars, Jungle Cats, Indian Porcupines, Barking Dogs, Malabar Squirrels, Sloth Bears, Pythons, Cobras, Flying Snakes and many other mammals and reptiles.
Avifauna includes White-breasted Water Hen, King Fishers, Woodpeckers, Little Green Heron, Indian Cuckoos, Indian Hill Mynas, Mynas, Egrets, Little Cormorants, Gray Jungle Fowl, Darters and many more. There is also a Crocodile Farm, Lion Safari Park and Deer Farm.

The Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary has varied vegetation from tropical evergreen forests to grasslands. Agasthyakoodam at 1890 meters above sea level is the highest elevation of this wildlife sanctuary.The sanctuary strectches from Neyyatinkara Taluk to the Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. It is the drainage basin of the Neyyar river and its tributaries — Mullayar and Kallar — which originate in Agasthyarkoodam, the second highest peak in Kerala. The nearest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram (32 km away) while the nearest railhead is also at Thiruvananthapuram.
Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary

Located at about 50 km northeast of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most beautiful wildlife sanctuaries of Kerala. Covering an area of over 53 sq km, the sanctuary is known for its verdant tropical forests and a wide variety of wildlife including birds. Known for its unique eco-diversity, the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a sanctuary in 1983, in order to protect and preserve its rich and diverse flora and fauna. The Peppara Dam, a large water reservoir built on the Karamana River and covering an area over 5.82 sq km, is situated in the heart of the Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary also houses 13 tribal settlements, which are known for their unique customs and traditions.The topography of Peppara chiefly comprises of highly undulating hills with elevations varying between 100 meters to 1,717 meters. There are three major forest belts in the sanctuary that include southern hilltop tropical evergreen forests found above elevation of 1,000 meters; West coast semi- evergreen forests found between elevation of 150 meters to 1,050 meters, Southern moist mixed deciduous forests occupying the lower slopes of the hills. The major wildlife in Peppara include Elephants, Indian Bison, Sambars, Barking Deer, Wild Boars, Tigers, Panthers, Wild Dogs, Lion-tailed Macaques, Nilgiri Langurs, Malabar Squirrels and Mouse Deer to name a few. Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is also rich in its avifauna, especially water birds, including Darters, Little Cormorants, Pied King Fishers and Egrets. A variety of reptiles found here includes the King Cobras and Pythons. The Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is also famous for its rich and diverse population of moths and butterflies.
The Following major forest types are recognised in the wildlife sanctuary.1 .Southern hilltop tropical evergreenThis type of forest is of stunted evergreen, found above 1000m elevation on the top of hills. They are exposed to heavy wind and less favourable soil and climatic conditions.

 

 

2 .West coast semi- evergreenA transitional zone between evergreen and moist deciduous, this type occurs mostly in hill slopes from 150 to 1050m. The riparian areas also contain them.3. Southern moist mixed deciduous forestsThis type of forest covers more than 60% of the tract along the lower slopes of hills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shendurney River

Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary
The Sanctuary consists of catchment areas of tributaries of Kallada River upstream of the Parappar dam in Kerala. It extends over 100 square kilometres. The Sanctuary got its name from the majestic tree, Chenkurinji, which is mostly found in this area.
Besides, one of the major rivers that flows through the area is called Chenduruny (Chenthuruny). The river rises from the Alwarkurichi peak, the highest point in the Sanctuary (1550 metres), and much of its course is now covered by the reservoir.
You can visit the Sanctuary by boat from Thenmala. A battery powered van will take you to the boarding point from the information centre of Thenmala Ecotourism Project. Trekking is allowed in some parts of the buffer area.
This Sanctuary has animals such as the bonnet monkey, lion tailed monkey, Nilgiri langur, squirrels, Indian bison, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, Indian elephant and wild boar. There are more than a hundred species of birds in the sanctuary. However, few could be seen during a boat trip.

Chenkurinji Tree

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, The Western Ghats, India

 

An Article by Mohan Pai
Nilgiri
Biosphere
Reserve

 Biosphere Reserves

in India
 

The concept of a biosphere reserve emerged from the “Man and Biosphere” programme sponsored by the UNESCO during the early seventies of the last century. Prior to this, conservation efforts had a tendency to focus on a few animals like the tiger, while ignoring the overall diversity of living organisms. They also did not successfully reconcile the need for development with conservation. The Biosphere Reserve is an attempt to rectify these lacunae and make conservation more meaningful given the socio-economic realities of the region.
“Biosphere Reserve” is an international designation term made by the UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large areas of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof.
The network includes significant examples of biomes throughout the world. The Biosphere Reserve finally aims at conserving and use of resources for the well-being of people locally, nationally and internationally. So far about 531 Biosphere Reserves have been established in about 105 countries.
In 1978, an advisory group of the Indian National “Man and Biosphere” programme identified 12 sites ranging from Nanda Devi in the Himalayas to the Gulf of Mannar in the Bay of Bengal, representing the diverse biogeographic provinces in the country. Of this the project proposal for the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was first prepared in 1980, but it took six years for the reserve to be officially established.

Biosphere reserves can spur efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as encourage increased use of renewable energy, according to a recent declaration adopted by a meeting backed by the UNESCO

The Indian government has established 14 Biosphere Reserves of India, (categories roughly corresponding to IUCN Category V Protected areas), which protect larger areas of natural habitat (than a National Park or Animal Sanctuary), and often include one or more National Parks and/or preserves, along buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.Four of the fourteen biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme list: 0 Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve 0 Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve 0 Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve 0 Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve.

Nilgiri

Biosphere

Reserve
 

Covering an area of 5,500 sq. km in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve has been designed to encompass extremities of habitat.

From 100m above MSL in the Nilambur plains, it goes up the vertical slopes of New Amarambalam to the rugged heights of Mukurthi peak (2,554 m) and drops in the east to 250 m in the Coimbatore plains. The western slopes get over 5,000 mm of precipitation annually while the sheltered eastern valleys receive less than 500 mm. Corresponding to their altitudinal and climatic gradients, the natural vegetation changes from tropical wet evergreen forest along the western slopes to montane stunted Shola forest amidst the grassy down on the upper plateau and on the east, progressively drier deciduous forests ending in thorny scrub. This setting is home for a variety of animals – the Lion-tailed macaque in the evergreen forests, the Nilgiri tahr in the grassy downs, the black buck in the dry scrub and the tiger and the elephant throughout the region.
To the north, the Biosphere Reserve begins in the Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka and the adjoining Wayanad sanctuary of Kerala. The moist deciduous forests and teak plantations of Nagarhole harbours abundant population of gaur, spotted deer, sambar and wild pig which support a sizeable number of carnivores such as tiger and leopard. Nagarhole is perhaps the best place in south India for sighting these large cats. The forest cover along the Kabini river has been reduced due to the construction of an irrigation dam. It was along the banks of this river that elephants were regularly captured for nearly a century by the ‘Khedda’ method until 1971. Even today an evening ride on coracle along the riverbanks during the dry months may be rewarded with the sight of over a hundred elephants.

The Biosphere reserve is split into four major zones viz. Core Zone, Manipulation forestry Zone, Tourism Zone and Restoration Zone.

The break up for the above four zones is as follows:

Core Zone 1240.3 sq. km. (22.5%)

Manipulation Forestry Zone 3238.7 sq. km (58.6%)

Tourism Zone 335.0 sq. km. (6.1%)

Restoration Zone 706.4 sq. km. (12.8%)

South of the Kabini, the dry deciduous forests of the Bandipur National Park were declared as a Project Tiger area in 1973. Contiguous with Bandipur lie Madumalai sanctuary of Tamil Nadu and portion of the Wayanad sanctuary in Kerala. The natural vegetation of this tract is moist deciduous forest. The fauna is similar to that of Nagarhole with elephants in large numbers.

Mullu Kurmbas

East of Madumalai, the vegetation over the Sigur plateau and the Moyar river valley lying in the rain shadow of the Nilgiri massif, becomes drier. Thorny plants such as Acacia dominate. In addition to the fauna of the deciduous forests, striped hyena, jackal and four-horned antelope are seen here. The black buck has disappeared from the Sigur plateau but a viable population of 300 to 500 is still found in the Moyar valley. They can be easily seen in the evening along the foreshore of the Bhavani reservoir.The Moyar valley is the junction of two great hill chains of the peninsular India – The Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats. A portion of Talamalai-Satyamangalam plateau has been included in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve as representative of the Eastern Ghats.
Over the eastern slopes of the Nilgiris, the forest cover extends southwards as a narrow belt into Balampatty and Siruvani hills. The Siruvani reservoir on the Kerala side provides water to Coimbatore city. A good stretch of evergreen vegetation covers the higher reaches of Siruvani hills. Adjoining these hills to the north-west, the Attappady valley is mostly under cultivation. The large tribal population here has been practising shifting cultivation for a long time. As a result, the forest covers over the surrounding hills have largely degraded. A well preserved stretch of evergreen forest with Dipterocarpus, Mesua and Palaquium is seen west of the Attappady Reserve, extending into the Silent Valley, New Amarambalam and through a narrow corridor into Nilambur. The endangered Lion-tailed macaque of the Silent Valley fame is highly adapted to such evergreen habitats. The controversy regarding the proposed dam across Kanthipuzha in the Silent Valley was laid to rest with the entire area being declared as a National Park in 1986. But the Government of Kerala has proposed Pathrakkadavu Hydro Electric Project in the Kunthi river, once again threatening the Silent Valley.

Perhaps the largest pristine evergreen forest in peninsular India is the New Amarambalam Reserve, which has escaped the axe simply because its steep terrain is inaccessible. This is home to Chalamekans, the only genuine hunter-gatherers in the peninsula. The upper Nilgiri plateau has been altered by human activities into one vast stretch of cultivated land and settlements around Udhagamandalam (Ooty).
Both slopes and valleys here grow tea, coffee, cinchona, fruits and vegetables such as potato. Extensive plantation of Blue gum (Eucalyptus), Wattle (Acacia) and Pine have also been raised. These have resulted in enormous loss of top soil. To tap the potential for generating hydro-electric power, a series of dams have been constructed across the Bhavani river and its tributaries.
A major portion of the upper plateau has been excluded from the Biospere Reserve. Only the western and the southern ridges, which retain some natural Shola and grass land vegetation along with monoculture plantations have been included. A sanctuary has been declared to protect the Nilgiri tahr.

Location

The reserve encompasses 5,520 km² in the states of Karnataka (1527.4 km²), Kerala (1455.4 km²), and Tamil Nadu (2537.6 km²). The Biosphere lies Between 11o 36′ to 12o 00′ N Latitude and 76o 00′ to 77o 15′ E Longitude. Central location: 11°30’00?N, 76°37’30?E

Protected Areas

Mudumalai WL Sanctuary and National Park (321.1 km²), Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary( 344km²), Bandipur National Park(874km²), Nagarhole National Park (643 km²), Nugu WLS, Mukurthi National Park (78 km²) and Silent Valley National Park (89.52km²) are protected areas within this reserve. The Biosphere Reserve also includes zones of the Nilgiris open to forestry and tourism including: Nilgiris District (North (448.3 km²) and Nilgiris District South (198.8 km²)), Erode District (Sathyamangalam forest (745.9km²) and Erode(49.3 km²)) and Coimbatore District (696.2 km²) in Tamil Nadu.The reserve extends from the tropical moist forests of the windward western slopes of the Ghats to the tropical dry forests on the leeward east slopes. Rainfall ranges from 500 mm to 7000 mm per year. The reserve encompasses three ecoregions, the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, South Western Ghats montane rain forests, and South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests. The habitat types include montane rain forest, semi-evergreen moist forest, thorn forest and scrub, montane grassland, and high-elevation Shola forests.

Fauna

Fauna includes over 100 species of mammals, 350 species of birds, 80 species of reptiles; about 39 species of fish, 31 amphibians, 60 species of reptiles 316 species of butterflies and innumerable invertebrates. Rare animals include the tiger and the Nilgiri Tahr.

Flora

The reserve has very rich plant diversity. Of 3300 species, 1232 are endemic.

Diversity of Forests

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve includes all the important forest types that are to be found in South India as well as some that are just peculiar to the belt such as Tropical Thorn Forest, Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests, Tropical Semi Evergreen Forests, Sub Tropical Broad Leaved Forests, Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, Southern Montane Wet Temperate Forests, Southern Montane Wet Grasslands and Subtropical Hill Savannas.Forest Divisions The NBR is spread over a large area within three states and varied climatic zones. The forest divisions are as follows: Coimbatore Division, Nilgiri South Division, Erode Division, Satyamangalam Division, Nilambur Division,Mudumalai Sanctuary, Wyanad Division,Palghat Division Chamrajnagar Division,Project Tiger Bandipur Mysore Division, Hunsur Division.

Protected Areas

The large contiguous extent of forest has the highest density of protected areas in the entire nation for so small an area.

Forest Types

The forests of NBR are spread over a vast area and cover various ecotypes. The following pages explain the difference in forest types and its relevance to the culture and ecology of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.The overall classification of the different forest types are as follows:

Evergreen, Semi Evergreen ,Moist Deciduous, Shola, Dry Deciduous Dry Scrub Woodland, Grasslands

Rhododendrons

Evergreen Forest

These forests form a major portion of the western part of the reserve and are characterized by giant trees, multilayered species variation and luxuriant vegetation. The giant lofty trees can go upto a height of 150 feet or more and are often supported by huge buttresses. These trees offer refuge to a multitude of life forms including mosses, ferns, epiphytes, orchids, birds and often small animals. The annual rainfall is more than 200 mm with a maximum of 4 -5 dry months, and the mean temperature higher than 150 C throughout the year. The soil is loamy laterite. The main NTFPs are wild nutmeg(Myristica spp.), cinnamom (Cinnamonum spp.), cane (Calamus spp.), Piper longum, honey and other herbs. These forest are located in Silent Valley, Attapadi Reserve Forest, New Amarambalam, Nilambur Special Division and small pockets of Coimbatore Division in Tamil Nadu.

Semi Evergreen

forests are moist and occur as a transition zone between the Evergreen Forests and the Moist Deciduous Forests. The trees are slightly lower in height as compared to Evergreen Forests. They are usually found in the lower or more accessible regions of the Evergreen Forests. Buttressed trees are quite common, lianas are also abundant. There are 2 possible transition zones for these forests – either the secondary forests moving towards the evergreen climax or they are the degraded forms of the Evergreen Forests. In some degraded areas around habitations, bamboo (Bambusa arundinacea) and sandalwood (Santanalis spp.) are also found. Lagerstroemia lanceolata is the predominant deciduous species. These forests are restricted to parts of Nilambur valley and even here they have been mostly converted to teak plantations. Wyanad plateau, the south western part of Nagarhole National Park, and western part of Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary also contain remnants of this type. Rainfall is around 3000-4000 mm with a dry season of 3-4 months. The soil is generally red lateritic loam. They are also classified as moist deciduous teak type. The undergrowth includes many evergreen shrubs and small trees. The trees reach a height of 25-30 m. Buttresses, lianas and dense undergrowth are common. Some species are common to the dry deciduous forest type also.

Shola Montane

Sholas are found intensively in the Nilgiri South Division and adjacent areas of Kerala in the upper reaches of Silent Valley, Attapadi and New Amarambalam. They are also highly concentrated in the Western catchment area, forming part of the Mukurthi National Park. They are accompanied by grasslands and are frequently the origin of most of the rivers of the zone. The trees are short to medium height (7-20 m), have small dense leaves and make a thick canopy. There is a thick concentration of mosses and ferns. They have a high water retention capacity. They are also classified as the Shola Montane forest type due to their slow growth, high susceptibility and confined geographical area – they are referred to as `Living Fossils’. The average rainfall is around 1000-1200 m with a maximum dry season of not more than one month.

Problems Areas

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has been enduring human interference for a very long time through development projects such as hydroelectric power projects, agriculture, horticulture, etc., which have brought about substantial change in the ecology of the area. Many environmental problems are noticed in different parts of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

Intensive felling

The increase in influx of population from the surrounding areas has led to deforestation and consequent habitat destruction. Between 1990 – 96 there has been a decrease in the dense forest area. 28.96 sq. km. of dense forests have become open forest and 22.67 sq. km. of dense forests have changed into non-forest areas. Intensive felling has led to multiple problems like destruction, depletion and degradation of the environmental and its natural resources. Indiscriminate clearing of forestst is destroying the habitat of the several species of animals and birds of the Nilgiris. Some of them like the Nilgiri wood pigeon, Nilgiri pipet and Nilgiri langur that are endemic to this region have hence become highly endangered. Animals like the elephant, tiger and leopard are moving closer to human settlements owing to the shrinking of forest areas.

Plantations (monoculture)

The Nilgiris, which support a variety of tree species, are threatened by monoculture. The sholas are being destroyed for plantations. Monoculture of eucalyptus, wattle, blue gum, cash crops like tea, coffee, cardamom and food crops like potato have degraded the soil quality along with excessive use of fertilizers. The tea bushes require frequent appli cation of fertilizer, which has made the soil porous. During heavy rain, these slopes are easily washed away resulting in a landslide

Grazing.

The sholas were used for grazing cattle. The livestock population inside the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is very low but the population in the periphery is very high. Destruction of the sholas has led to disappearance of perennial streams, causing soil erosion and micro climatic changes. Overgrazing has led to degradation of low and high level grasslands, which harbour a large number of endemic species.

Forest fires

Forest fires are more common in the sholas and dry deciduous forests. They are both accidental as well as deliberate. The annual fire set off during the summer months for a better pasture in the ensuing monsoon is another manmade threat to the biological diversity.

Development and construction activity

Due to developmental activities large areas of forests have been cleared in and around the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. More human habitation has resulted in largescale road laying that connects even remote forest areas to the nearest urban centre. Construction activities like road building have unleashed widespread landslides and slope destabilization. Construction of the Kabini reservoir has submerged the valley between Nagarhole and Bandipur.

Horticultural and agricultural practices

Extension of agriculture, and use of lands unsuited for agriculture have accelerated soil erosion. Human settlements on the uplands have destroyed the sholas. Soil erosion is severe in the east and southwest areas of the Nilgiris where the monsoons are heavy. In the Mysore plateau region, the extension of irrigation canals from reservoirs has led to a largescale shift in land practices.

Tourism

The Nilgiris are an important tourist centre in South India, and attract a large number of tourists. A large number of hotels, clubs, resorts, gardens and roads have emerged rapidly,degrading the natural vegetation. Extensive pollution and water scarcity are the result affecting the entire ecology Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Ooty Lake has been ruined accumulating garbage and disposal of sewage into it.
Conservation and management of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

Conservation and management of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve depends on the coordination between government agencies and the local people. For effective management, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has been zonalised as

core zone (1240 sq.km)

buffer zone (4280 sq.km).

The buffer zone is further divided into manipulation zones like forestry, tourism and recreation zones. These zones are located in all the three states of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala into which the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve extends. Most of the plantations are seen only in the manipulation zone.Being one of the hotspots of biodiversity, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve has some national parks and wildlife sanctuaries within its boundaries. Conservation of wildlife is the main objective of these national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Some of these areas have been designated by the government as Project Tiger and Project Elephant areas.

People

The Biosphere has a large number of indigenous communities, most of them forest dwellers and hunter gatherers. These distinct ethnic groups have small populations and live in geographical concentrations. It forms home to several adivasi communities, including the only surviving hunter gatherers of the Indian Sub-continent – the Cholanaikans in the New Amarambalam area.

Toda dwelling
Apart from the Todas – a well known pastoral group in the upper Nilgiris, other groups include the Paniyas, Irulas, Kurumbas, Kuruchiyans, Mullukurumbas, Adiyans and Alyars. Its richness in terms of people is incomparable – history goes back a long way. Their unique cultural and social characteristics sets them apart.

Cholanaickens, Allar,Malayan, etc., are native to the reserve. Except for Cholanaickens who live exclusively on food gathering, hunting and fishing, all the other tribal groups are involved in their traditional occupation of agriculture.

Betta Kurumbas

The Betta Kurumbas live in northern parts of Gudalur, extending into the Mysore district in the north. These people live in large settlements of 60-80 households. Most have no land and depend on wage labour and NTFP collection for a large part of the year. With the rapid change to tea cultivation in Gudalur area, these adivasis have become daily wage workers. Many of them have found employment with the Forest Department as watchers and elephant mahouts. Some of them are skilled bamboo workers. Today, the Betta Kurumbas have access to government schemes and help from other agencies. During the season, they go into the forest to mainly collect shikakai (Acacia concinna), kodampuli (Garcinia gummigutta) and some medicinal plants. They are not good honey collectors and like the Irulas, cover a wide area and collect small volumes; the more specialized/skilled collection of herbs and honey is left for the Kattunaikans.

Todas

Though very few in number, approximately 1500 people, this community is well known for their distinct features and traditions. They are scattered over 40 settlements in the Nilgiris. They are pastoralists, breeding buffaloes for both custom and livelihood.

Toda Women

Their traditional huts, like igloos, are made of different products from the forest. Due to the nature of their activities, they traditionally commanded large stretches of land for grazing. These were mainly in the upper areas of the Nilgiris, with grasslands and shola vegetation. After the advent of the British and the introduction of exotic plantations of acacia and eucalyptus, their pastures are lost and many of their traditional landmarks become meaningless.

Malasars

The Malasars are found both in the district of Coimbatore and in the adjoining parts of Kerala. These people are a forest community, living on marginal cultivation (slash & burn), and collection of NTFPs. A large part of their diet also consists of wild yam. The Malasars live in low elevations and almost down to the plains. Some of the villages have good access and infrastructure facilities. Most of the younger generation is getting educated and some are working on regular jobs. A vast difference is found in the economic status of the adivasis in different settlements. Some of the Malasars practice settled agriculture, whereas most earn their livelihood through daily wage jobs.

Cholanaickens

The Cholanaickans live in the Karulai Forest Range of Nilambur in Kerala, forming part of the western NBR.

Cholanaickan Hut

They are the most primitive indigenous community, still in the pre-agricultural level of development. The people live in temporary shelters alongside rivers and shift to caves in the monsoons. Their lives are closely linked to the semi evergreen and moist deciduous forests around that area. They collect NTFPs and sell them to the Co-operative Society of Nilambur. They collect honey, black dammer, mosses, nutmeg, shikakai from the forest and take back rice, tobacco, salt, oil and other necessities from the Society. Now, they number approximately 426 and continue their lifestyle, though slowly being drawn into modern market economies. Very few development programmes address this community and since they are so few in number, they also marry into other communities, especially the Padinaickens.

Irulas

Anthropologists do not consider them original inhabitants of hills. They have moved up to the mountains either for wage labour or while doing slash and burn agriculture.

Irula Woman
 

Usually, the Irulas have very little link to the other adivasis in the region, except with the Kurumbas. They have a more plains-ward movement and associate with agricultural and trading communities in the adjacent plains around the hills. Hunting, food gathering and agriculture form a distinctive way of making a living, which they now carry out, mainly for commerce.

They usually go in groups into the forest and collect items for sale to traders. Till now, the hunting for small game and eating of roots from the forest is common. They collect honey from the Roch Bee from trees and from the combs of the smaller bee – Apis cerana. They have a more widespread foraging strategy, collecting more volume for trade by covering vast areas. They too have knowledge of various medicinal plants, which they use. However, they hold the Kurumbas in awe for their skill in sorcery and medicine.Jenu KurumbaLiving in the northern part of the reserve, they are named such due to their skill in honey collection – jenu means honey. These communities are concentrated in the Mysore and Kodagu districts in the Karnataka part of the NBR. Cultivable land has been given to these communities, though they are traditionally hunter-gatherers. Some of the people undertake seasonal agriculture or else depend on wage labour. They collect forest produce, mainly honey, during the season and travel sometimes across the forest to Kerala to sell it. They are socially organized into groups and sangams in different zones. There are approximately 40,000 Jenu Kurumbas in the NBR. Mullu Kurumbas

The Mullu Kurumbas are concentrated in the Wyanad region, including parts of Gudalur. Known more for their hunting and bird catching traditions, they now practise agriculture in the vyals of Wyanad. The women engage in fishing traditionally. Today, most people are educated and hold jobs. They take advantage of government schemes and their special status. A lot of the culture is now borrowed from the Nayars of Kerala, though they have an animistic form of worship.

Nagarhole

National Park

 

Nagarhole National Park, also known as ‘Rajiv Gandhi National Park,’ is located 94 km from Mysore. It is spread between Kodagu and Mysore districts. Located to the northwest of Bandipur National Park, Kabini reservoir separates the two. The exclusive hunting reserve of the former rulers of Mysore, the park has rich forest cover, small streams, valleys, and waterfalls. In 1975 its area stretched to 575 km².The place derives its name from Kannada, Naga meaning snake and hole referring to streams. Set up in 1955, it is one of the best-managed parks in the country, with the office of the Deputy Conservator of Forests situated in Hunsur, about 47 km away from Nagarhole. The climate is tropical; summer is hot and winter is pleasant.

Tiger

The park boasts a healthy tiger-predator ratio, and tiger, bison, and elephant are much more populous here than in Bandipur.The park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Nagarhole National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Map of Nagarhole Reserve

Terrain

With the backdrop of misty Brahmagiri hill ranges and it’s thickly forested and gently undulating terrai, criss-crossed with many rivers and streams, Nagarhole is naturalists dreamland. Masal Betta (959 m) located on the south-west fringes of the park is the highest point, and Kabini River is the lowest point at 701 m above sea level. Mostly moist mixed deciduous forest in the southern parts, dry tropical forest towards the east, and Sub mountain hill valley swamp forest

Mammals:

Elephant, Jackal ,Tiger, Panther, Gaur, Muntjac, Sambar, Spotted deer, Mongoose, Civet cat, Hyena, Dhole, Wild Boar, Striped Hyena, Sloth Bear, Leopard Cat, Jungle Cat, Mongoose, Muntjac, Mouse Dear, Slender Loris, Malabar Giant Sqiurrel, Porcupine, Pangolin,Reptiles: Marsh Crocodile, King Cobra, Krait, Python, Viper, Tortoise, Monitor Lizard ,Toads etc.The main trees found are Rosewood, Teak, Sandalwood and Silver oak.

Bandipur

National Park

 

Bandipur National Park is one of India’s best known sanctuaries, and is an important Project Tiger reserve. It is located in the Chamarajanagar district of southern Karnataka in south India, and is contiguous with the Mudumalai National Park in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, the Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, and the Nagarhole National Park to the northwest. It is home to around seventy tigers and over three thousand Asian elephants (as per the 1997 census ), along with leopards, dholes, gaur and sloth bears. Bandipur is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Bandipur National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

History

A sanctuary of 90 km² was created at this site in the Bandipur Reserve Forest in 1931.

Gaur

As it was realised that this was too small for effective wildlife conservation, leading to the instituting of the Venugopala Wildlife Park at this site, extending over 800 km². The Bandipur Tiger Reserve was constituted in 1973 by carving out 880 km² from the Wildlife Park. Recognised under Project Tiger in 1973 this park has boasted constant rise in Tiger population. Also famous for Sandalwood trees and rare species of Flora.
The main species are:Tiger, Four horned Antelope, Gaur, Elephant, Panther, Sloth Bear, Crocodiles, Mouse deer, Python, Osprey,Birds: Grey Junglefowl, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Honey Buzzard, Red-headed Vulture, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Brown Hawk Owl,

 

Chital herd

Bay Owl, Malabar Trogon, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Little Spiderhunter, Plain Flowerpecker.Reptiles: King Cobra, Common Cobra, Python, Adder, Viper, Rat Snake, Water Snake, Marsh Crocodile, Lizard, Chameleon, Monitor Lizard, Frog, Tree frog, Toad and Tortoise.

Geography

Bandipur National Park’s altitude between 680-1454 metres and is situated south of the Kabini river at the foothills of the Western Ghats. The rivers of Kabini, Nagur and Moyar flow through the reserve.

Gopalswami Temple, Gopalswami Betta
Climate – Winter minimum 10, Summer maximum 28 degrees, Monsoon from June to September and best time to visit is open throughout the year but preferably in monsoon when wildlife is plenty and forest is green. Greenery is quite lean when viewed from road but gets thicker as we proceed into the forest.

Mudumalai

National Park

 

The Mudumalai National Park lies on the northwestern side of the Nilgiri Hills (Blue Mountains), in Nilgiri District, about 80 km north-west of Coimbatore in the westernmost part of Tamil Nadu, on the interstate boundaries with Karnataka and Kerala states in South India.

Mudumalai forests
 
Conservation history

The park was created in 1940 to become the first wildlife sanctuary in southern India. Originally 60 square kilometres, the sanctuary was enlarged to 295 km² in 1956 and subsequently to its present size of 321 km². The sanctuary is contiguous with Bandipur National Park (874 km²), Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary (344 km²), Sigur and Singara reserve forests. The park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Mudumalai National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Flora and fauna

There are three main types of forest: tropical moist deciduous, tropical dry deciduous and southern tropical thorn. In certain places mixed vegetation types are present. Tropical moist deciduous forest occurs in the western Benne Block, where rainfall is higher than in the other blocks.

Primates found include the Gray langur (Semnopithecus priam) and the Bonnet Macaque (Macaca radiata). There are as many as 37 Tigers (Panthera tigris) (E) in mudumalai forest area, whereas the Leopard (P. pardus) (T) is most often seen in the Kargudi area. Other carnivores include the Dhole (Cuon alpinus) (V), the Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena), the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) and the Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) (I). The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) (E) population totals several hundred animals.

Elephant herd
 

Ungulates include the Gaur (Bos gaurus) (V), the Sambar Deer (Cervus unicolor), the Chital (Axis axis), Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), the Indian Spotted Chevrotain (Moschiola meminna), and the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa). Rodents include the Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica maxima) and the Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista).Bird life is rich. Regional endemics include Malabar trogon Harpactes fasciatus and Malabar grey hornbill Tockus griseus. Predatory birds include crested hawk-eagle Spizaetus cirrhatus and crested serpent eagle Spilornis cheela. It also holds the isolated southern population of the Striped Tit-babbler Macronous gularis. Of the reptiles, monitor lizard Varanus bengalensis is the most regularly observed species.

The nearest airport is at Coimbatore (84km) and the closest railhead at Udhagamandalam (64km). However, in terms of travel practicality, the closest railhead is Mysore (90km),which sits on a major broad gauge line and is served by trains from across the country. The park is most conveniently accessible by road from Mysore on the Mysore-Ooty highway.Other Places to visit in this region Include:

The Elephant Feeding Camp – A place where you can interact with Elephants and also see how they are fed.

Museum – Near the Elephant feeding camp there is a museum where dead animals are preserved. These preserved animals once lived in the Mudumalai Jungle.

Moyar River – See how the Moyar river runs through the dense forest. Spotting animals while they come to drink water in the river is fun.

Elephant Safari and Van Safari Conducted by Tamilnadu forest department.

Kallatty falls – Located 30Km from Mudumalai forest department . A beautiful falls with breathtaking view.

Pykara Lake – Located 40 Km from Mudumalai Safari office. It is a clean and scenic lake between the hills. It is an isolated lake free from pollution and crowds. Boating is conducted here.

Mukurthi

National Park

 

Mukurthi National Park is a 78.46 km² protected area located in the south-eastern corner of the Nilgiris Plateau west of Ootacamund hill station in the northwest corner of Tamil Nadu state in the Western Ghats mountain range of South India. The park is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India’s first International Biosphere ReserveThe Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of Mukurthi National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.The park is characterized by Montane grasslands and shrublands interspersed with sholas in a high altitude area of high rainfall, subfreezing temperatures and high winds. It is home to an array of endangered wildlife, including Royal Bengal Tiger and Asian Elephant, but its main mammal attraction is the Nilgiri Tahr. The park was previously known as Nilgiri Tahr National Park.

Mukurthi Peak
 

History

Native hill tribe communities including the Toda people have harvested firewood from the sholas and grazed their animals including the Hill Buffalo for centuries. Indiscriminate felling of the sholas started with the establishment of British settlements in Ootacamund, Coonoor and Wellington in the early 1800s. Beginning in 1841 authorities issued contracts to bidders to fell wood from specific sholas in a ‘timber conservancy program. In 1868 James Breeds, Commissioner of the Hills, wrote: “…unless conservancy is taken in hand and organized under some efficient system under the control of an experienced officer, the destruction of the sholas is but a question of time.”

Between 1840 and 1856 plantations of several non-native tree species were introduced to the area to satisfy the fuel-wood demand. These included 4 Wattle species (Black Wattle, Silver Wattle, Green Wattle and Blackwood), Eucalyptus, Cyprus, Indian Long leaf Pine and Thorny Gorse. Eucalyptus became the preferred plantation tree.Unlike the others, the wattles spread by root suckers to quickly cover large areas of native grasslands, including the Mukurthi Hills, and was declared a pest “useful for covering wastelands.” Some Black Wattle plantations were maintained for the leather industry, as their bark yielded tannin.Mukurthi was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986 and a National Park in 2001, in order to protect the Nilgiri Tahr.

Geography

Mukurthi National Park has an elongated crescent shape facing to the west between 11°10′ to 11°22′ N and 76°22′ to 76°35′ E.. It is bordered on the west by Nilambur South Forest Division in Kerala, to the northwest by Gudalur Forest Division, to the northeast, east and southeast by South Forest Division and to the south by Mannarghat Forest Division, Kerala. At its southwest tip the peaks of this park straddle the northeast corner of Silent Valley National Park of Kerala.On the Nilgiri Plateau, the Kundah range of the Nilgiri hills is a ridge on the south-western side of Mukurthi National Park bordering Kerala. The Tamil Nadu/Kerala border here is 39 km long. The park generally slopes towards the east and south receiving water from the Billithadahalla, Pykara and Kundah rivers, and the Upper Bhavani and Mukurthi reservoirs which flow through the park. Also several perennial streams originate in the park, most of which drain into the Bhavani Puzha.Mukurthi Peak elevation: 2554 m.(8,379 ft.) Park elevation varies from 1,500 m (4,921 ft) to 2,629 m (8,625 ft), with Kollaribetta 2,629 m (8,625 ft), Mukurthi 2,554 m (8,379 ft), and Nilgiri 2,476 m (8,123 ft) being the highest peaks. With elevations greater than the general level of the plateau, the range possesses some peaks close to the height of Doddabetta, just east of Ooty. Avalanche hill of this range has twin-peaks of the Kudikkadu (height: 2,590 metres (8,497 ft)) and the Kolaribetta. Derbetta (or Bear Hill) (height: 2,531 metres (8,304 ft)) and Kolibetta (height: 2,494 metres (8,182 ft)), south of the Ouchterlony valley, are a continuation of the Kundah range.

These 3 hills of the Wayanad district are generally low in relation to other heights of the district; but are distinguished in relation to the generally uniform level of this area. Important peaks in the southwest Sispara/Bangitipal part of the park are Sispara (height: 2,206 metres (7,238 ft)) Anginda(height: 2,383 metres (7,818 ft)), Nadugani (height: 0 metres (0 ft)) and Gulkal (height: 2,468 metres (8,097 ft)). The park has a harsh environment with annual rainfall varying from 2010 mm to 6330 mm (79–249 inches), night temperature usually below freezing in the winter and wind speeds ranging up to 120 km/h (75 mph).

Fauna

Several threatened mammal species live here including Nilgiri Tahr, Indian elephant, Bengal Tiger, Nilgiri Marten, Nilgiri langur and Bonhote’s Mouse. Mukurthi is near the northern end of the range of the Nilgiri Tahr. A 3 day census in March 2007 estimated 200 Tahrs in the park including 60 young ones sighted. There are also Leopard, Bonnet macaque, Sambar deer, Barking deer, Mouse Deer, Otter, Jungle cat, Small Indian Civet, Wild dog, Jackal, Black-naped Hare, Common Rat, Shrew, Malabar Spiny Dormouse and Soft-furred Rat.Avifauna consists mostly of hill birds including the threatened Laughing thrush, Whistling Thrush, Woodcock, Wood Pigeon, Black-and-orange Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, Grey Headed Flycatcher Black Bulbul, White-eye, Nilgiri Pipit. The predatory Black-winged Kite, Kestrel and Black Eagle may be seen in the grasslands.The area is home to many species of reptiles such as the Geckos Dwarf Gecko spp. and Nilgiri Salea Salea horsfieldii, the snakes Horseshoe Pit Viper, Olivaceaous Keelback, Oligodon taeniolatus, Oligodon venustus, Bronze-headed Vine Snake and several Shieldtails of which Perrotet’s Shieldtail is most common. Some amphibians here are the Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Bufo beddomii, Bufo microtympanum and many species of Tree Frogs including Micrixalus opisthorhodus and Rana limnocharisButterflies with Himalayan affinity like the Blue Admiral, Indian Red Admiral, Indian Fritillary, Indian Cabbage white and Hedge blues are seen here. Some streams had been stocked with exotic Rainbow Trout in the past.

Flora

The area is home to numerous endemic plants particularly of the scapigerous annual Impatiens plants. Alchemilla indica and Hedyotis verticillaris are found only within or on the fringes of this park. Rhododendrons, Rhododendron arboreum the national flower of Nepal or Rhododendron nilagiricum, are seen throughout the grasslands and very large specimens are conspicuous around many sholas. The natural habitats of the park have been much disturbed by previously easy motor vehicle access through four different entry points and extensive commercial planting and natural spreading of non-native eucalyptus and wattle (Acacia dealbata, Acacia mearnsii and other species). In addition there is one large, and several smaller hydro-electric impoundments in the area. The nearest airport is Coimbatore – 140 km. The nearest Railway station is Udhagamandalam – 45 km. The best seasons are February to May and September to November.

Wayanad

Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary is located in in Wayanad district, Kerala, south India. It is on the way from Mysore to Sultan Battery. Wild animals such as Indian Bison, elephant, deer and tiger has been spotted. There are also quite a few wild birds in the sanctuary.Peacocks and Peafowl tend to be very common in the area.It is spread over 344 km² and is about 16 km east of Sultan Battery, the nearest large town.The sanctuary is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), including all of the sanctuary, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Water hole at Muthanga

The flora of Wayanad are characteristic of the Western Ghats and the plantation crops grown in the cool climate. A major portion of the district is covered by coffee. Trees of the wild type like rose-wood, anjili (Artocarpus), mullumurikku (Erthrina), several species of caussia and many other non-descript varieties are still preserved here and there, to give shade to the coffee plants. These trees give a semblance of wilderness to the landscape of Wayanad. In a majority of coffee plantations, the age-old species are replaced by the silver-oak which is suited to the cold climate. This tree grows quickly and its cultivation is widespread among coffee plantations for shade and for giving support to pepper. It is used for the plywood industry and thus is economical to the farmers. Eucalyptus grandis, a shorter variety of eucalyptus, whose fragrant smell suffuses the very air around it, is cultivated on a large scale in centain parts of the district. Eucalyptus oil is extracted on commercial basis from its leaves. Of the 20,864 hectares of reserve forest, the major portion is teak plantation. Arecanut palms and jack trees are also grown here. Tea is grown as an industry in large estates. With the clearing of forests, the diverse and buzzling animal life, characteristic of the forests of Western Ghats, has vanished from Wayanad. One can still see the bonnet monkeys, loris, mongooses, jungle cats, squirrels, jackals, hares, etc. in the limited forest areas. Elephant, bear and other wild animals from the neighbouring wildlife sanctuaries of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, stray into the Begur forest range and the forests around Muthanga, which is 20 kilometres away from the town of Sulthan Bathery.

Silent Valley

National Park

 

Silent Valley National Park (Core zone: 89.52 square kilometres (35 sq mi)) is located in the Nilgiri Hills, Palakkad district, Kerala, in South India. The area under this national park was historically explored in 1847 by the botanist Robert Wight, and is associated with Hindu legend.The park is one of the last undisturbed tracts of South Western Ghats montane rain forests and tropical moist evergreen forest in India. Contiguous with the proposed Karimpuzha National Park (225 km²) to the north and Mukurthi National Park (78.46 km²) to the north-east, it is the core of the Nilgiri International Biosphere Reserve (1,455.4 km²), and is part of The Western Ghats World Heritage Site, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²) under consideration by UNESCO.Plans for a hydroelectric project that threatened the park’s high diversity of wildlife stimulated an environmentalist Social Movement in the 1970s called Save Silent Valley which resulted in cancellation of the project and creation of the park in 1980. The visitors’ centre for the park is at Sairandhri.

Lion-tailed macaque

There is a perceived absence of noisy Cicadas and hence the name ‘Silent Valley’. Another story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri. A third story, refers to the presence there of many Lion-Tailed Macaques Macaca silenus. In 1914 the forest of the Silent Valley area was declared a Reserve Forest, however, from 1927 to 1976 portions of the Silent Valley forest area were subjected to forestry operations

Lion-tailed Macaque

Silent Valley is home to the largest population of Lion-tailed Macaque. Public controversy over their habitat led to establishment of Silent Valley National Park. In 1973 the valley became the focal point of “Save Silent Valley”, India’s fiercest environmental debate of the decade, when the Kerala State Electricity Board decided to implement the Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) centered on a dam across the Kunthipuzha River. The resulting reservoir would flood 8.3 km² of virgin rainforest and threaten the endangered Lion-tailed macaque. In 1976 the Kerala State Electricity Board announced plans to begin dam construction and the issue was brought to public attention.In 1983 the Hon. Prime Minister of India decided to abandon the Project and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park. On September 7, 1985 the Silent Valley National Park was formally inaugurated. On September 1, 1986 Silent Valley National Park was designated as the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Since then, a long-term conservation effort has been undertaken to preserve the Silent Valley ecosystem.

In 2001 a new hydro project was proposed and the “Man vs. Monkey debate” was revived. The proposed site of the dam (64.5 m high and 275 m long) is just 3.5 km downstream of the old dam site at Sairandhiri, 500 m outside the National Park boundary.

Geography

Silent Valley is rectangular, 7 km (east-west) X 12 km (north-south). Located between 11o03’ to 11o13’ N latitude and 76o21’ to 76o35’ E longitude it is separated from the eastern and northern high altitude plateaus of the (Nilgiris Mountains) by high continuous ridges including Sispara Peak (2,206 m) at the north end of the park. The park gradually slopes southward down to the Palakkad plains and to the west it is bounded by irregular ridges. The altitude of the park ranges from 658 m to 2328 m at Anginda Peak, but most of the park lies within the altitude range of 880 m to 1200 m. Soils are blackish and slightly acidic in evergreen forests where there is good accumulation of organic matter. The underlying rock in the area is granite with schists and gneiss, which give rise to the loamy laterite soils on slopes.

 

Attappady Tribal Chief

Tribes

There is no record the valley has ever been settled, but the Mudugar and Irula tribal people are indigenous to the area and do live in the adjacent valley of Attappady Reserved Forest. Also, the Kurumbar people occupy the highest range outside the park bordering on the Nilgiris.
FloraValley areas of the park are in a Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests Ecoregion. Hilly areas above 1,000 m are in a South Western Ghats montane rain forests region. Above 1,500 m, the evergreen forests begin to give way to stunted forests, called sholas, interspersed with open grassland. Both are very important to naturalists, biologists and other researchers because the rich biodiversity here has never been disturbed by human settlements. Several threatened species are endemic here. New plant and animal species are often discovered here.

Birds

Birdlife International lists 16 bird species in Silent Valley as threatened or restricted: Nilgiri Wood-pigeon, Malabar Parakeet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied Treepie, Grey-headed Bulbul, Broad-tailed Grassbird, Rufous Babbler, Wynaad Laughing Thrush, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, White-bellied Shortwing, Black-and-rufous Flycatcher, Nilgiri Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue-flycatcher, Crimson-backed Sunbird and Nilgiri pipit.Rare bird species found here include Ceylon Frogmouth and Great Indian Hornbill. The 2006 winter bird survey discovered Long-legged Buzzard, a new species of raptor at Sispara, the park’s highest peak. The survey found 10 endangered species recorded in the IUCN Red List including the Red winged crested cuckoo, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Pale harrier. The area is home to 15 endemic species including the Black-and-orange Flycatcher. It recorded 138 species of birds including 17 species that were newly observed in the Silent Valley area. The most abundant bird was the Black bulbul.

Mammals

There are at least 34 species of mammals at Silent Valley including the threatened Lion-tailed Macaque, Niligiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Nilgiri Tahr, Peshwa’s Bat (Myotis peshwa) and Hairy-winged Bat. There are nine species of bats, rats and mice.The Silent Valley forest remains one of the most undisturbed viable habitats left for the endemic and endangered primates lion-tailed macaque and Nilgiri langur.The tiger, leopard (panther), leopard cat, jungle cat, fishing cat, Common Palm Civet, Small Indian Civet, Brown Palm Civet, Ruddy Mongoose, Stripe-necked Mongoose, Dhole, clawless otter, sloth bear, small Travancore flying squirrel, Indian pangolin (scaly anteater), porcupine, wild boar, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer and gaur also live here.

 

Vanishing Species – Varanus salvator

An article by Mohan Pai

Varanus salvator
Water Monitor

Pic by Abhijit Siraj

Second largest of all the monitor lizards of the world, after the Komoda dragon,  Varanus salvator can attain a length of three meters and is also another endangered species.

The Water monitor, (Varanus salvator), a cousin of the Komodo dragon, is a large species of monitor lizard capable of growing over 3 meters (9.8 ft) in length, with the average size of most adults at 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) long. Maximum weight of Varanus salvator can be over 75 kg, but most are half that size. Their body is muscular with a long powerful laterally compressed tail. Water monitors are one of the most common monitor lizards found throughout Asia, and range from Sri Lanka, India, Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and various islands of Indonesia, living in areas close to water. In India, they are to be found in the mangroves and marshy lands of the east coast and also in the Andamans.

Varanus salvator is semi-aquatic and has a wide range of habitats. They are frequently seen on river banks and in swamps. The Water Monitor is a water-dependent species and has been known to cross large stretches of water, explaining its wide distribution.Though also found on flat land, a typical burrow is in a river bank. The entrance starts on a downward slope but then increases forming a shallow pool of water. The average length is about 9.5 m, the average depth is about 2 m, and the average temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius.

Physical Description

Varanus salvator is reported to grow to 3 meters in length, but most adults are 1.5 meters long at most. Individuals have a black temporal band edged with yellow that extends back from each eye. The neck of this monitor is very long with an elongated snout. The nostrils are close to the end of the nose. The tail is laterally compressed and has a dorsal keel. The scales on the top of the head are relatively large, whil those on the back are smaller in size and are keeled.The color of the Water Monitor is usually dark brown or blackish, with yellow spots on the underpart of the lizard. The yellow markings on the species tend to diminish as the individual becomes older.

Reproduction

Males are normally larger than the females, usually twice as large in mass. The maturation of the male occurs when the individual is about 1-meter in size and the female at about 50-cm. The breeding season begins in April and lasts until October. However the testes of the male are the largest during April and the female is more receptive, thus there is an increase in reproductive success the earlier fertilization takes place.Larger females produce a larger clutch size than smaller individuals. The eggs are usually deposited along rotting logs or stumps.

Pic by Abhijit Siraj

 

Behavior

An interesting behavior of the Water Monitor resembles a behavior of the green iguana. When the monitor becomes the hunted, usually from large snakes (like the hamadryads), it will climb trees with its powerful legs. Once in the tree it may escape the threat, but if the danger is still present the Water Monitor will jump from the branch into the safety of a stream or river.

Food Habits

The Water Monitor is an extreme carnivore. This means that the lizard will eat about any animal that it believes it can consume. Among some of the common prey includes: birds and their eggs, small mammals (especially rats), fish, lizards, frogs, snakes, juvenile crocodiles, and tortoises. Like the Komodo Dragon, the Water Monitor has been known to dig up corpses of humans and devour them as well.The primary hunting technique used by Varanus salvator, as well as by other monitors, is characterized by ‘open pursuit’ hunting, rather than stalking and ambushing. The lizard is very fast for it size due to its powerful leg muscles. While hunting for aquatic prey, Varanus salvator can remain submerged for up to 30 minutes.

Economic Importance

Skins of Varanus salvator are used for dietary protein, ceremonies, medicine, and leather goods. Annual trade in these skins may reach more than 1 million whole skins a year, mostly in Indonesia for the leather trade. Medium-sized individual are preferred because the skin of large animals is too tough and thick to shape. There is small trade in live monitors, but they are not suitable pets for a majority of the owners.Although killed extensively for its skin, this species seems to be resilient. It has been proposed that this is because large females, who produce larger clutches, are avoided by the leather trade.

A water monitor portrayed a Komodo Dragon in the 1990 movie, The Freshman.

References: AnimalDiversity Web, Wikipedia

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http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
For some key chapters from my book “The Wetern Ghats”, please log on to:http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
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Vanishing Species – Indian Giant Squirrel

 

An article by Mohan Pai

Indian

Giant Squirrel

Ratufa indica

Largest of the arboreal squirrels, they are under severe threat in degraded forests

The Indian giant squirrel, Ratufa indica, is a large-bodied diurnal, arboreal, and herbivorous squirrel found in South Asia. Also called the Malabar giant squirrel, the species is endemic to deciduous, mixed deciduous, and moist evergreen forests of peninsular India, reaching as far north as the Satpura hill range of Madhya Pradesh (approx. 22° N)The Sqirrel has a conspicuous bipartite (and sometimes tripartite) colouring pattern. The colours involved can be creamy-beige, buff, tan, rust, brown, or even a dark seal brown. The underparts and the front legs are usually cream coloured, the head can be brown or beige, however there is a distinctive white spot between the ears. Seven different geographical races, each distinctive in the colouration of its upper-parts, have been identified. Among these are the buff and tan Ratufa indica dealbata of the tropical moist deciduous forests of the Surat Dangs; the seal brown, tan, and beige (and darkest) Ratufa indica maxima of the tropical wet evergreen forest of Malabar; the dark brown, tan and beige (and largest), Ratufa indica bengalensis of the tropical semi-evergreen forests east of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg extending up to the Bay of Bengal coast of Orissa; and the rust and buff Ratufa indica centralis of the tropical dry deciduous forests of Central India. The Indian giant squirrel is an upper-canopy dwelling species, which rarely leaves the trees, and requires tall profusely branched trees for the construction of nests. It travels from tree to tree with jumps of up to 6 m (19.69 ft). When in danger, it often freezes or flattens itself against the tree trunk, instead of fleeing.

The size of their body comes to almost 3ft. with only the tail measuring up to 2ft. in length. The long bushy tail helps in balancing their body on the trees. They are deep brown in colour with buff-coloured underparts. Giant squirrels live only in forests. They keep to the branches of higher trees and rarely come to the ground. They move from tree to tree taking amazing leaps with limbs outspread, covering as much as 20 ft. in a single leap. They are active agile animals, mostly active during the early mornings and evenings. They are shy and wary, not easy to discover. Despite its brilliant colouring, the Indian Giant Squirrel is sooner heard than seen. Its loud rattling call, often repeated, usually reveals its presence. Any unusual sound or unfamiliar sight sets these squirrels calling in all directions. They share with monkeys the habit of scolding, barking and raising an alarm when any suspicious object is sighted. When frightened, these squirrels do not dash away; quite a common habit is to lie flattened against a branch or to slip behind a heavy bough or trunk. They feed on fruits, particularly the fruits of ‘Terminalia’ or ‘Ain’.

The 2 feet long bushy tail helps it to balance while climbing trees. They have a deep brown, almost black, coat with buff-coloured under side. It produces an interesting whistling sound, which is often mistaken for a sound coming from an electronic equipment. Interestingly, it rarely leaves treetops, always travelling through trees by leaping a maximum length of 6.5 metres from one tree to another. Being a diurnal animal it is active during the daytime and rests at night. Mainly feeds on fruits and leaves. It lives alone or in couples. These animals build sphere shaped nests of twigs and leaves and keeps them positioned between tree branches. Due to hunting, loss of habitat and trade of parts, the Malabar Giant Squirrels are threatened to extinction. In Kerala, they are protected in the wildlife sanctuaries of Neyyar and Peppara in Thiruvananthapuram, Periyar Tiger Reserve in Idukki, Silent Valley National Park and Eravikulam National Park.

Commonly known as ‘Shekru’ in Maharashtra (Ratufa indica elphinstoni), the Indian giant squirrel is the State animal of Maharashtra. It inhabits the deciduous or mixed forests, and is abundant in the forests of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra and is protected in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Their population here is about 70 animalsThe giant squirrels in Maharashtra are reddish brown in colour, while the ones found in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala are brick-red and black, respectively. The giant squirrels in Maharashtra are reddish brown in colour, while the ones found in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala are brick-red and black, respectively.

Physical Description
Length: 254 to 457 mm; avg. 355.50 mm (10 to 17.99 in; avg. 14 in)The squirrel has dorsal coloration that varies from deep red to brown, the ventral fur is white. They have short, round ears, a broadened hand with an expanded inner paw for gripping, and large, powerful claws used for gripping tree bark and branches. Females can be distinguished from males by their three sets of mammae. Total body length varies from 254 to 457 mm and tail length is approximately the same as body length. These squirrels weigh approximately 1.5 to 2 kg

Gestation period: 28 to 35 days; avg. 31.50 daysLittle is known of mating behavior of the Giant Squirrels. Males actively compete for females during the breeding season and pairs may remain associated for longer periods of time.Reproductive behavior of the giant squirrel is poorly known. There is some evidence that breeding occurs throughout the year, or several times during the year. Litter size is usually 1 or 2 young, but may be as many as 3. They build eagle-sized nests in the branches of trees and raise the young there until they begin to emerge from the nest and gain independence.

Predation

Giant squirrels escape predation primarily by seeking refuge in the trees and through their agility and wariness. They are preyed upon by many medium and large-sized predators, such as cats, civet cats, raptors, and snakes.


Pics by Vivek Kale

References: Wikipedia

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http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
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For some key chapters from my book “The Wetern Ghats”, please log on to:
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For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley,
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Vanishing Species – The Binturong

An Article by Mohan Pai

BINTURONG

(Bearcat)

Arctictis Binturong
 
 
 
 

 

 

  What’s a Binturong?

A Binturong, or Bearcat, is a mammal of the order Carnivora, found in the southeastern parts of Asia, from far eastern India through southwestern China, Thailand, Laos,Burma, Viet Nam, Malaysia, and parts of Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo). The westernmost island of the Philippines, Palawan, also has a few. They are plentiful nowhere, though not yet extremely endangered. But their habitat is constantly shrinking, and therefore so are their numbers. The word binturong is of Malaysian origin, but the animal is commonly called “bearcat” in English, never mind the fact that it is neither a bear nor a cat, but from an older lineage than either.

But what are they? They have one of the cutest faces in the animal kingdom, shaped like a sea lion’s. They can hang by their tails like some monkeys. They walk flat-footed like a bear, not on tiptoe like dogs and cats. They can crawl around upside down in trees like a sloth, and come down headfirst like a squirrel, even though they weigh about 40 lbs. They live in the tropics, but their coat looks as long and thick as a grizzly’s. They can balance on their hind legs and tail like a kangaroo. They have the typical carnivore teeth, but they love fruit above anything else. Its long fur serves more as a rain repellent than for warmth. It will eat meat with those teeth if it can catch some, but fruit is a lot easier for a tree animal.

They are highly endangered in parts of their range and threatened/ vulnerable in others due to habitat destruction and poaching for use as a delicacy and in medicine.

They are arboreal — living in the dense forest canopy of the rain forest. Relatively slow-moving and inoffensive, binturongs are mainly nocturnal. They spend the day curled in branches and basking in the sun. Awkward on the ground they are skilled climbers and move through the canopy from branch to branch searching for food. They can also dive, swim and catch fish; and they kill small animals like ducks by jumping on them!
They range in size from 4 – 5 feet including the tail which is almost as long as the body. Weight is 30 – 40 pounds. Binturongs have thick, coarse, glossy black fur, white whiskers and black ear tufts. The prehensile tail is covered with very long thick fur. It is used as an extra hand, holding on to branches or hanging by it to reach food. A scent gland under the tail produces strong-smelling musk oil which is used to mark their territory. The scent resembles popcorn or warm corn bread. They can make loud howls, low grunts, and hisses and when happy, chuckling noises.
Binturongs are fruit eaters, especially of strangler figs in their native habitat. Eggs, young shoots, leaves, birds, rodents and other small animals may also be eaten. They function both as critical seed dispersers and pest controllers in their habitat!Reproduction is non-seasonal but usually peaks during January to March. Gestation is around 91 days; litter size can vary from 1 to 6 but 2 is typical. Although usually tame, they can be aggressive when cornered and bite. They can be easily domesticated and kept as pets. Lifespan in captivity is 20 + years.

Pic 1 by Tssilo Rau

Reference: Wikipedia

MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my articles visit:
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http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
For some key chapters from my book “The Wetern Ghats”, please log on to:
http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley,
please log on to:
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http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
 
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http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts/pageno-1.htm

 


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