Posts Tagged 'Indian Wilderness'

Whither the Wilderness?

An Article by Mr. Mohan Pai


Whither the Wilderness ?

“There was a time when meadow,
grove and stream,
The earth and every common sight
To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.It is not now as it had been of yore;
Turn whereso’er I may,
By night or day, the things which I have
Seen I now can see no more.”
William Wordsworth

I am tempted to quote here an extract from Civil Original Jurisdiction I.A.No.670 of 2001. In Writ Petition (C) No.202/1995 [K.M. Chinnappa (Applicant) in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad (Petitioner) Versus Union of India and Others (Respondents):

“About one and half century ago, in 1854, as the famous story goes, the wise Indian Chief Seattle replied to the offer of the great White Chief in Washington to buy their land. The reply is profound. It is beautiful. It is timeless. It contains the wisdom of the ages. It is the first ever and the most understanding statement on environment. The whole of it is worth quoting as any extract from it is to destroy its beauty.”How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?”Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.”
Bababudan Range, The Western Ghats, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai


“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

The wilderness scene is getting murkier and murkier. We have a billion population and even if an iota of this great mass could see the consequences of our rash attitude towards nature and its destruction and consequences, may be we will live in a better world. But nature is treated as a gold mine to be exploited for enriching the few.
To quote Valmik Thapar “Forests in India are a treasure house. Everyone wants to grab a bit. There is the timber mafia; I know thousands of cases where tribal people were employed to cut down trees. There is the land mafia, out to grab forest land and encroach. There are miners – mining for marble, uranium, diamonds, whatever available. It is in their interest to have forest land denotified”.


Now the Tribal Bill is hanging over the country’s ecological future like the Democle’s Sword. The Bill is a politically motivated and ecologically suicidal proposal. It will mandate that each nuclear family of a forest-dwelling Sheduled Tribe receive up to 2.5 ha of forest land. This would really harm the Adivasis rather than helping them. Much of India’s remaining forests, protected areas, and wildlife would be highly decimated. This will have serious effect on country’s water sources as nearly 600 rivers originate from our forested regions. Much of India’s remaining forests will end up in the hands of land mafia and industrial companies with short-term financial gains. The Bill also proposes to reverse current laws. It would override the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), 1980 and the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972. Enforcement powers would rest with Gram Sabhas (Adivasi Community Leaders)and not with MoEF. The JPC has recommended that the Act be placed in the 9th schedule of the Constitution, which would make it immune to judicial scrutiny and review.

Soliga Minstrel, B.R.Hills, Karnataka -Pic by Mridula Pai


The effects of Global Warming on the wilderness are quite unpredictable but with the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers which will first increase the volume of water in rivers, causing widespread flooding. But in a few decades this situation will change and the water levels in rivers will decline causing massive eco and environmental problems in northern India. Apart from human miseries, the effect of it on vegetation, forests and wildlife will be very drastic.As a result of sea level rise, the massive flooding and submergence of the coastal areas will also mean submergence of vegetation and forests of the coastal areas. The unpredictable weather patterns will also see erratic Monsoons affecting the whole subcontinent and its ecology.

 – A brief history

The protection of wild life has a long tradition in Indian History. Wise use of natural resources was a prerequisite for many hunter-gatherer societies which dates back to at least 6,000 B.C. Emperor Asoka’s edicts of the third century B.C. depicts one of the earliest conservation laws.Centuries later, the Mogul emperors, sportsmen, men of action and born observers that they were, displayed a deep interest in the animal life of the country. The ethos of conservation and reverence for nature and wildlife as reflected in some of the exquisite images depicted in Indian art, painting, sculpture and architecture and use of animal fables from early literature like Panchatantra and Hitopa-desha are more relevant today than they were centuries ago.

On the brink – Lion-tailed Macaque

Pre-colonial rulers had set up hunting reserves in many parts of India. In later years some fine sanctuaries were established in what was then British India, and in a few of the princely states. Well known examples are Bandipur in Karnataka, Corbett Park in Uttar Pradesh, Vedanthangal in Tamil Nadu.
But for the protection given to the Lion in Junagadh State and to the Great Indian Rhinoceros in Nepal and Assam, these two animals would have been exterminated long ago. Natural ecosystems have evolved over millions of years. A remarkable feature of the ecosystems is the basic stability of populations that they sustain, providing for a natural balance. Each ecosystem sustains a variety of organisms adapted to their environment and participating in a cycle of events involving interdependence between organisms and the physical world around them. Deforestation has been one of the major causes for the depletion of wildlife. Wild animals are left with no alternative but to adapt, migrate or perish. Widespread habitat loss has diminished the population of many species, making them rare and endangered.There was a wholesale slaughter of wild creatures during late 19th and early 20th century during the colonial period. ‘In sheer numbers, over 80,000 tigers, more than 1,50,000 leopards and 2,00,000 wolves were slaughtered in a period of 50 years from 1875 to 1925’ (Mahesh Rangarajan). The beginning of the Second World War in 1939 resulted in enormous pressures on Indian forests for timber in early 1940s. Contractors moved in and large tracts of forest were cut down. They had guns, they hunted on a large scale. Few accurate records exist of the slaughter that took place.The wood was even sent to Burma and beyond for building all that the British required. The forest service was fully occupied in this task.

Tropical evergreens of the Mahadayi Valley – Pic by Shrihari Kugaji

After independence in 1947, a spate of ill-advised developmental schemes, an uncontrolled push for agricultural land, and unmonitored hunting wrought havoc on wilderness.A series of river valley projects sprung up in prime wilderness areas. While this habitat devastation was taking place, the elite took to more sophisticated guns and tougher vehicles like jeep to make inroads into the forest and shoot thousands of tigers and other game. It was free-for-all. The British had left but the Indian elite was on a binge to shoot tigers. Shikar companies sprang up everywhere, enticing hunters from all over the world to the killing game.
Deforestation has been one of the major causes for the depletion of wildlife. With the increase in human population and the growing need for resources, forests were cleared or encroached upon for agriculture, for human habitation, for grazing of livestock and for hydroelectric and irrigation dams. Thousands of square km of prime, evergreen forests have been submerged and destroyed for the sake of these development projects.Industries also made heavy demand on forest resources such as wood for paper mills, exploitation of gums and resins, mining of forest land for minerals and ores, building materials, etc. Uncontrolled hunting of wildlife for pleasure, food, furs, skins, horns, tusks, etc. posed a serious threat to the survival of wildlife. The illegal trade in animal skins has been responsible for destruction of a large number of tigers, leopards, deer, fishing cat, crocodile and snakes as well as birds with beautiful plumage. Elephants were hunted for ivory. There are laws in the country to prevent such illegal trade, but these are often violated by unscrupulous elements, traders and exporters. Added to this is the practice of trade in exotic mammals, birds and reptiles and use of animals for biomedical research.Pollution of air, water and soil due to various industrial activities apart from affecting humans affect the well being of animals also. Industrial effluents containing harmful chemicals discharged into the lakes, rivers and oceans adversely affect the aquatic life.

Waterhole at Muthanga, Wayanad, Kerala – Pic by Mohan Pai

DDT and Dieldrin, used as pesticides also has major effect on birds, particularly sea birds. The egg shells of birds become thin, making them vulnerable to breakage due to the weight of the female while incubating them. Oil pollution is another serious problem affecting the seas through leakage from cargo ships and due to accidents.
Over the past century, India’s wildlife has dwindled to a mere fraction of its former strength. Reduction in the forest areas means reduction of the wildlife habitat, which due to various factors has become fragmented. Conversion of forests into plantations, roads, railways, agricultural holdings, human settlements, hydroelectric project, irrigation dams, mining and location of industries in forest areas have all contributed to a very sizeable area of forests lost. The other factors which contributed to the depletion of wildlife are uncontrolled hunting, poaching and pollution.

Less than a century ago 40 percent of India was forested. Large tracts of deciduous and tropical rainforest were destroyed over the past century as the British expanded India’s railway network across the country. Then, between 1951 and 1976, some 15 percent of the nations’s land were converted to cropland and much of this came from natural forest.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls, KeralaPic by Mohan Pai

Forests are strained by the increasing demand of their resources. As human and livestock population swell and forests shrink, the relationship between rural communities and forest has become increasingly precarious. Nearly 90 percent of the wood taken from the forests is used as fuel. And India’s forest provide fodder for some 100 million head of cattle that trample and denude under-growth as they graze.Yet, India’s natural forests provide it with some extremely vital services: They protect topsoil from wind and water erosion, regulate temperatures, replenish aquifers, store genetic diversity, offer recreational relief and provide a number of products other than wood – including medicine and food.Deforestation leads to several changes in the landscape. The degradation and fragmentation of forests, which generally precede deforestation, considerably affect the biodiversity of the region. For example, in the Western Ghats, low elevation evergreen forests dominated by Dipterocarp constitute the most threatened habitat. Its continuum along the Western Ghats has been fragmented due to selective logging, increase in permanent settlements, and rubber plantations. Consequently, several typical low-elevation species have almost become extinct, several have become rare, and some species have taken refuge in the sacred groves.

With a growing concern for the fast dwindling wildlife, the Government of India in 1952 set up the Indian Board of Wildlife, as also state wildlife boards. Wildlife together with forestry, has traditionally been managed under a single administrative organisation within the forest department of each state or union territory, with the role of central government being mainly advisory. There have been two recent developments. First, the Wildlife (Protection) Act has provided for the creation of posts of Chief Wildlife Wardens and Wildlife Wardens in the states to exercise statutory powers under the Act. Under this act it is also mandatory for the states to set up state wildlife advisory boards. Secondly, the inclusion of protection of wild animals and birds in the concurrent list of the constitution, has proved the union with some legislative control over the states in the conservation of wildlife. The situation has since improved; all states and union territories with national parks or sanctuaries having set up wildlife wings.

The adoption of a National Policy for Wildlife Conservation in 1970 and the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972 lead to a significant growth in protected areas network, from 5 national parks and 60 sanctuaries to 87 national parks and 485 sanctuaries in 2000.The network was further strengthened by a number of conservation projects, notably Project Tiger, initiated in April 1973 by the Government of India with support from WWF and the Crocodile Breeding and Management Project, launched in April, 1975 with technical assistance from UNDP/FAO.

Mrs. Indira Gandhi was a keen environmentalist. She promoted Project Tiger and brought in two vital conservation legislations – the Wildlife Protection Act(WPA) 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) 1980. Both these Acts helped the country’s conservation efforts a great deal. Project Tiger at one stage appeared to be a success story as the Tiger bounced back and had doubled its population by 1990s.But from then on, the wilderness of India suffered a complete neglect under Congress rule during Narasimha Rao’s tenure. There was total apathy and the political will to save forests had faded. The situation which continues till this day.

It was at about this time that the Supreme Court of India stepped in. As a result of two writ petitions that the Supreme Court was triggered to issue notices to all the states and union territories of India about a series of related issues concerning forests. The Apex court orders have been passed, beginning with the well-known orders of 1996 where forests were redefined to prevent any loopholes in the law from being exploited which could result in the felling of trees or encouraging any other exploitative activity.Felling was stopped throughout India except in accordance to a working plan approved by the central government. All non-forest activities on forest land such as mining, sawmills and wood-based industries were stopped pending approval of the central government and clearance under the Forest Conservation Act. In subsequent orders the removal of any tree or even grass was prohibited from national parks and sanctuaries. The definition of forest land covered all wildlife habitats of the country, be they privately protected or not.The Supreme Court had come to the rescue of India’s forests and wildlife at time of total political apathy and any sign of a political will. But now, who knows what the future holds !

The latest Tiger census is just out with a head count of 1411 tigers. Which means more than 2000 tigers have vanished during the last seven years. All the tigers had disappeared from Sariska Tiger Reserve by 2005. The Government appointed the Tiger Task Force which proved to be of no real help.

Acknowledgements: Valmik Thapar, Mohan Pai (The Western Ghats)

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Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India Part VI

By Mohan Pai
Caranzol forest with a stream – Pic by Mohan Pai


Dry-throated, foaming at the mouth,

maddened by the sun’s sizzling rays,

tuskers in agony of growing thirst,

seeking water, do not fear even the lion.

Tormented by the hot sun, a herd of wild boars

rooting with the round tips of their long snouts

in the caked mud of ponds with swamp-grass overgrown,

appear as if descending deep into the earth.


A cobra overcome by thirst darts his forked tongue out

to lick the breeze; the brilliance of his crest jewel

flashes struck by brilliant sunbeams; burning

from Summer’s heat and his own fiery poison

he does not attack the assemblage of frogs.


Rivers swollen by a mass of turbid waters

rush with impetuous haste towards the seas,

felling trees all around on their banks

like unchaste women driven by passion-filled fancies.


Infuriated by the thunder of the first rain clouds,

wild elephants trumpet again and again;

their temples spotless as bright blue-lilies are drenched

by the flow of rut with bees swarming over them.


The breathtaking beauty of rippling lakes

breathed on by a passing wind at daybreak,

where lotus and lily glow brilliantly

and pairs of live-drunk geese float entrancing,

suddenly grips the heart with longing.


Fields richly covered with ripening rice

where charming does roam in herds

are sonorous with the calls of damsel cranes,

Ah! What restlessness they arouse!


Cold, cold, with heavy dews falling thick,

and colder yet with the moonbeams’ icy glitter,

it with ethereal beauty by wan stars,

these nights give no comfort or joy to people.

From Kalidasa’s ‘Rtusamharam’ translated by Chandra Rajan

“Biodiversiy” encompasses the variety of all life on the earth. It is identified as the variability among the living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. The Mahadayi/Mandovi river valley which is part of the larger Sahyadri ecoregion and is a major centre of diversity.

Dense Forests of Chapoli – Pic Srihari Kugaji


The Mahadayi/Mandovi river valley comprises the Western Ghats zone on both Karnataka and Goa side across the crestline of the Sahyadris including Madei Wildlife Sanctuary and Molem National Park with an area of about 750 sq km. However, the Madei/Mandovi river basin in Goa comprise a much larger area of 1,580 sq. km. about 42% of Goa’s total geographical area.
On Goa side, the narrow coastal plains lead eastward to hills ascending about 1,200 metres. The isolated peaks are Sonsagar or Sosodurg (3,827 ft.), Catlanchimauli (3,633 ft.), Vaguerim (3,500 ft.) and Morlemchogar (3,400 ft) all in Sattari taluka of North Goa falling in the Mahadayi valley region.
The coastal plains traversed by estuarine rivers of which the Mandovi river has the largest river system network with several estuarine and riverine islands. The Mandovi plains of Goa comprise an intricate system of wetlands, tidal marshy areas and cultivated paddy fields (Khazans), all intersected by canals, inland dykes, bays lagoons and creeks. The Mandovi and the backwaters in the hinterland are governed by regular tides which go up to 36 km upstream (beyond Ganjem).
While some protection has been afforded to the Madei Valley on Goa side through the creation of Molem National Park (240 sq. Km.) and Madei Wildlife Sanctuary (211 sq km.) The Karnataka side of the valley remains without any protection the area remains wide open for destruction.
Madei Wildlife Sanctuary – view from Parvad, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

Generally, the Sahyadris contain three distinct forest type – montane rain forests, moist deciduous forests and dry deciduous forest and all the three types are represented in the Mahadayi/Madei river valley.

Dense tropical evergreen forests of the valley – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The montane rain forests support the highest level of biological diversity in the Mahadayi/Madei valley. They are extremely rich in endemic species, which occur nowhere on earth. These evergreen forests thrive in areas with high rainfall (more than 2000 mm), mostly along the western escarpment of the Ghats. The Mahadayi and its tributaries originate in these forests. At low and medium elevation, this region typically features towering evergreen trees up to 45 m tall, draped with climbers, woody vines and epiphytes. Bamboos canes and palms make up the thick, dark under story and the forest floor supports dense ground cover.

Fungal diversity – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Like the montane evergreen forests, the moist deciduous forests occur in areas of high rainfall (more than 1500 mm). These forests contain primarily deciduous species, which lose their leaves seasonally. This is the main forest type of Goa, covering more than half the catchment area of the Madei river (Molem, Valpoi, Anmod Ghats).
Dry deciduous forests occur on the leeward side of the Sahyadris with lower precipitation and the eastern part of the Mahadayi valley in Khanapur taluka exhibit this type. Trees here grow to a height of 25 m. And the vast majority of plant species lose their leaves during the dry season. These forests may not have high biodiversity but they provide valuable habitat to large herbivores like elephants and bisons and carnivores such as leopard and tiger.

Sapium insinae – one of the most poisonus plant in the Sahyadris – Pic by Mohan Pai
The valley is a scenic treat and one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world and reflects the complexity in plant animal and bird life and is home to endangered bat species. The valley is comparable to the Silent valley of Kerala in its significance and an important biological and ecological remaining pocket in the Western Ghats.


Utricularia reticulata – Insectivorous plant. Pic by Mohan Pai

Goa’s four wildlife sanctuaries are located on the eastern flank of the state in the Western Ghats section covering an area of about 750 sq km which makes Goa the only state in India which has protected the complete Western Ghats section within the state.

Entrance to Bhagwan Mahveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Molem – Pic by Mohan Pai
While the Madei Wildlife sanctuary (Sattari – 208.48 sq km) and Bhagawan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary and Molem National Park (Sanguem – 240 sq km) fall within the Mandovi basin all sanctuaries are but a contiguous belt on the eastern border of Goa.
Molem Sanctuary – Pic by Mohan Pai

These are all thick monsoon forests that hold a great reservoir of biodiversity. The forest type include montane rain forests, moist deciduous and dry deciduous forests.

Mappia foetida – Pic by Mohan Pai
The whole area is a rich repository of medicinal plants and herbs wich are in great demand by Pharmaceutical MNCs abroad e.g. Mappia foetida used for the treatment of ovarian and colon cancers.



Mangroves are highly specialised ecosystems, which grow salt water resistant plants in the inter tidal areas along sheltered seacoasts and estuaries in the tropical region.

Mangroves of Cumbarjua Canal – Pic by Mohan Pai
Various biotic communities associated with mangroves form a complex food web and provide wide services to the livelihood of coastal people.
The most prominent and extensive back-waters with mangroves are located to the east of Panaji. The total area of mangroves along the Mandovi and Cumbhajua canal is about 900 ha. Mangroves harbours some wild life which includes otter, fishing cats, monkeys and snakes.


Mangroves of Chorao Island – Pic by Mohan Pai

More common are birds like herons, storks, sea eagles, kites, kingfishers, sandpipers, tits,bulbul and whistlers.
The dominant trees in the swamps are species of Myristica. Wild relatives of species that yield nutmeg and mace. The swamps are also richly endowed with wild relatives of other plants. Unfortunately Myristica swamps are highly threatened due to human intervention. In Valpoi there exist a few patches of Myristica swamps and this endangered ecosysyem needs to be conserved.

 Sacred Groves

Forests have been the lifeline fo tribals and other forest dwelling communities since distant past. Communities have been setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped called Devachirai in Goa.

Niramkarachi Rai – the sacred grove at Nanode, Sattari – Pic by Mohan Pai
Goa had an extensive distribution of the sacred groves and few have survived till today. Most of the sacred groves that have survived are in Sattari and Sanguem talukas. Ranging in size from less than a hectare to many hectares, sacred groves are often the only remaining haven for plants and animals in areas with destruction of their natural habitat. Ajobachi Rai in Sattari taluka is the largest sacred grove in Goa spread over 10 ha.


Icons worshipped in a sacred grove in Sattari – Pic by Mohan Pai

Traditional Horticulture

“The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the valley are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.

CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed and processed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.

Goa is associated with a large variety of choicest mangoes. These include Mankurad, Mussarat, Fernandin, Hilario, Xavier, Bishop, Afonso, Furtad, Costa, Sakri, Rosa,Goa Alfonso, etc.

The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in Goa close to temple complexes and in their capitals. The local village associations- the gaunkaris also brought large areas under mango cultivation. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa. Bernardo Francisco da Costa founded the first canning factory in Goa, the first in India in 1882 and exported Goan mangoes ias slices in syrup as well as in jelly form. The area under cultivation of mango in Goa is 3,700 hectares, yielding about 35-40,000 MT

Cashew is one of the largest plantation crops in Goa. They are grown on hilly sides, mixed with other vegetation or scattered on open pastures. The largest size is reported from Sattari, Bicholim and Bardez talukas. Cashew was introduced in Goa by the Portuguese during 16th Century basically as a soil conservation crop. Today a total of 44,520 hectares (28%) of the total crop area is under cashew plantation. About 10 lakh litres of cashew feni are produced annually which fetches the State of Goa around Rs. 80 – 90 lakhs / year.
The second major plantation crop in Goa is the coconut. Most families in Goan villages rear coconut trees. The staple diet of Goans being Fish Curry & Rice, coconut curries are an essential ingredient of the daily diet and Goans are generally incapable of making curries without the use of coconut. Most sweets in Goa are generally made out of a mixture of rice and coconut. The other element of the coconut tree is that the toddy is used in the production of jaggery and vinegar as well as in the manufacture of feni, another variety of liquor.Coconut is one of the nature’s wonder trees and is responsible for a sustained generation of a varied number of biodegradable products, still largely used in the villages. Besides oil and oilcakes, which are fed to the animals, the trees produce fibres for ropes and matting. Coconut tree trunk is used to make rafters for roofs. Leaves both dry and green are used for making baskets and thatches to protect Goan homes, particularly windows and balcaos during heavy monsoon. The ribs of the leaves are used to produce brooms.
The area under arecanut is around 2000 hectares and almost half of it is in Ponda Taluka. The areca palm is much more delicate than the coconut tree. It requires abundant irrigation during the hot summer months and could therefore be beneficially cultivated in kulagars. Areca is basically a shade loving tree and grows best in the company of other fruit bearing trees.

 Other plantation crops grown in Goa are the bamboo, the banana and mango. Bhirand / kokum is also an important plantation crop which forms a part of daily diet. It is used as a garnish to give an acidic taste to curries and vegetable as well as in the preparation of cooling kokum syrup during the hot summer months.

Bhinnas or Kokum is a very sourfruit which is used as an ingredientin the local curries.Picture shows‘Sollas’ (dried condiments) from Kokum, Otomb and raw mangoes.


Wildlife in the Valley


Thickly forested area of the Mahadayi/Mandovi valley cover about 750 km on both Karnataka and Goa side. The wildlife in the valley more or less represents that of the Western Ghats with some species of bats which are endemic to the valley. According to a study carried out by Belgaum Nature Lovers’ Club , the fauna of the area includes 25 species of mammals including tiger, black panther, bison and elephant; 15 varieties of reptiles including King Cobra, 128 varieties of birds like the Malabar whistling thrush and Malabar pied hornbill; 29 varieties of Butterflies and moths that include the largest butterfly in the subcontinent – the Southern Birdwing.

Theobald’d Tomb Bat is a rare species of bats found in Krishnapur caves in the Mahadayi Valley – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

 The valley is home to two rare species of bats – Wroughton’s Freetailed bat at Barapedi caves and Theobald’s Tomb bat at Krishnapur.

Krishnapur Caves, just 2.5 km from Goa border – home to the endangered Theobalds Tomb Bat – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Wroughton’s free-tailed bat


Thomas (1913) was the first author to describe the species found only at a single site in India – Barapedi Caves at Talevadi in the Mhadei River Valley in Karnataka – Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat which are peculiarly structured and highly specialized species belonging to the order of Chiroptera.

Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat of Barapedi Caves – Pic by Niranjan Sant

It is a large sized insectivorous molossid bat with a stout tail projecting conspicuously and with large ears of variable forms. Its colour is rich, glossy dark brown with white border on each flank. The population of these rare and endangered bats is very low. The species has been brought recently under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act – Schedule I and a complete ban is imposed on its collection for any academic or research purpose.

The Barapedi cave in which it resides is located at an altitude of 800 m. (2,600 ft.) And the cave itself is small – only about 40 m deep, 25 m wide and 6-7 m high with corners, permanent patches of water and high degree of humidity. These bats take shelter in small or big groups of 2 to 15 or even more individuals deep in the crevices, cracks or holes. They remain silent and hence it is very difficult to locate the groups and determine the colony size. This bat was thought to be restricted to only Barapedi habitat in the entire world but recent research has revealed the presence of this species in north-eastern India and Cambodia.

Between the 21st and 26th of May, 2002, the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada, witnessed a most significant event, the International Children’s Conference on the Environment 2002. Eleven-year old Vivek Danewale came half-way around the world from Belgaum, India with his campaign to save the Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat.


Of the 48 species of mammals identified in the Western Ghats, the Mahadayi/Mandovi Valley has a fair share of the mammals diversity. The main species are:

Primates ( Common langur, Bonnet macaque, Slender loris, etc),

Cats: (Leopard or panther, Jungle Cat, Leopard Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat)

The Civets: ( Small Indian. Common Palm Civet, or Tody Cat)

The Mongoose (Common Mongoose, Stripedneck Mongoose, Brown Mongoose)

The Dog Family ( Jackal, Indian Fox, The Dhole or Indian Wild Dog)

The Bear Family ( Sloth Bear)

The Ground Shrew, The large Brown Flying Squirrel, The Three Striped palm Squirrel, The Five Striped palm Squirrel,. Funambulus PennantiGiant Squirrels.The Indian Giant Squirrel, The Indian Porcupine, The Blacknaped Hare

The Indian Elephant

 The Gaur or Indian Bison

 Deer: (The Sambar, Chital or spotted Dear, The Muntjac or Barking Deer, Mouse Deer)

 The Indian Wild Boar

Gaur is Goa’s State Animal


Indian Rock Python, Whitaker’s Sand Boa, Common Sand Boa, Red Sand Boa, Common Wine Snake,Beddome’s Keelback, Striped Keelback, Checkered Keelback, Banded Racer,Common Indian Cat Snake, Collared Cat Snake, Sri Lankan Cat Snake, Ornate Flying Snake, Copper headed Trinket snake, Indian Trinket Snake, Common Bronzeback, Tree Snake, CommonWolf Snake, Yellow Spotted Wolf Snake, Taravancore Wolf Snake, Banded Kukri Snake, Streaked Kukri Snake .
King Cobra

Indian Rat Snake, Indian Krait, Black slender coral Snake, Monocled Cobra, Spectacled Cobra,King Cobra, Brahminy Blind Snake, Russell’s Viper, Saw Scaled Viper, Hump nosed pit viper, Green Pit Viper, Malabar Pit Viper, Ocellate Shield Tail .

Lizards Skinks and Geckos


Chameleon – Pic by Amrut Singh
Green Forest Lizard, [Sourthern], Elliot’s Forest Lizard, Roux’s Forest lizard, Common Garden Lizard, Western Ghats Flying Lizard, Fan Throated Lizard, Bronze Grass Skink, Keeled Grass Skink, Dussumier’s Litter skink, Beddome’s Cat skink, South Indian Rock Agama, Asian House Gecko, Termite Hill Gecko, Spotted Rock Gecko, Reticulated Gecko, Kollegal Ground Gecko, Bengal Monitor.


Goa is called ‘the Birdwatcher’s paradise’ The valley has more than 350 species of birds which include jungle fowl, woodpeckers, barbets, Malabar grey hornbill and Malabar pied hornbill, kingfishers, cuckoos, owls, nightjars, gulls, cormorants, egrets, herons, orioles, minivets, thrushes, bulbuls, magpies, canaries, robins, swallows, warblers, etc.

Indian Flying Fox, False Vampire bat, Short nosed fruit bat, Painted Bat, Wroughtons Freetailed Bat, Theobald Tomb Bat.

The area is home to innumerable species of invertebrates which include ants, bees, wasps, beetles butterflies, etc. Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly of the subcontinent with a wing span of 19 cm is commonly seen in the valley. Grass Jewel, the smallest butterfly with a wing span of 1.5 cm is also found in the valley.


Tailless Whipscorpion – This is not a true scorpion and appears more like a spider. It is an arachnid (anthropod with eight legs and 2 body parts) and a cousin to scorpion and spider. There are about 60 species worldwide generally found in warm climate


The total forest cover of the valley between Karnataka and Goa is approx 750 sq km of which more then 50% lies (450sq km) in Goa. The reduction in the waters of Mahadayi will not only decimate all these forests but will also affect the remaining forests especially in terms of the wildlife of the south eastern forests of the Sahyadris in Goa consisting of Netravali and Cotigao sanctuaries (297 sq km) as this forms a contiguous belt of forests in Goa. In other words the entire belt of protected forest areas that form the contiguous area amounting to 755 sq km will be decimated. The same fate is likely to befall the Bhimgad forests and the protected forests of Anshi National Park and Dandeli located in Uttara Kannada district just south of the Mahadayi river and valley in Karnataka and Amboli forests of Sawantwadi in Maharashtra to the north.

Environmentalists, conservationists and various groups and NGOs have been crying hoarse for decades over saving the Mahadayi River Valley on the Karnataka side. And the valley remains without any protective measures from the Government side and therefore wide open for destruction.

Non-governmental organisations and peoples’ groups in the three states proposed that the entire area along with other contiguous forests of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra be declared as the Sahyadri Ecologically Sensitive Area as it is very fragile and under various threats. However, there are no signs of the MoEF taking any decision on this issue. There has also been proposals for setting up a biosphere reserve or designating the Mahadayi Valley in Khanapur as Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary but these proposals are also facing considerable resistance and the files are gathering dust.

At a smaller level, groups such as Paryavarni, Nature Lovers’ Club in Belgaum, the Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya in Dharwad and Madei Bachao Andolan and Vivekananda Environment Brigade in Goa have been raising concerns and so have villages like Nerse in Khanapur who have now formed the Nerse Parisara Samrakshana Samiti.

On Goa side, the Valley is protected to some extent through the creation of Bhagavan Mahavir Wildlife Santuary and Molem National Park(Total protected area: 240 sq km) in Sanguem taluka and Madei Wildlife Sanctuary(Protected area: 208.48 sq km) in Sattari taluka and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary (Protected area: 8 sq km) in Ponda taluka. Fortunately for Goa, the entire eastern Sahyadri zone is protected through the creation of two more Wildlife Sanctuaries along the eastern border – Netravali and Cotigao. There is now a contiguous strip of protected forests stretching along the entire length of Goa which act as a corridor for the movement of wildlife.

Goa has also set up a bird sanctuary – Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary on Chorao island with an area of 1.8 sq km. The whole area has mangrove vegetation.The sanctuary has colourful resident and migratory birds and it is a habitat for plankton, shrimps, prawns and small Fish.

Protected Areas of Goa.

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