Saturday, December 27, 2008

Biodiversity - Kodagu (Coorg)

An Article by Mohan Pai
KODAGU (Coorg)

Nisargadhama, Kodagu - Pic by Mohan Pai
The land of Coffee, Pepper, Honey
& 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)
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.


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.


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).

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.

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
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.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Biodiversity - North Bengal

An Article by Mohan Pai


North Bengal comprising the districts of Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Dinajpur and Cooch Behar lies at the foothill of the great Himalayas. The area covers the moist and dense riverine forests of the Bengal Dooars (Duars) and the stark foothills of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga range. The unique climatic and ecological conditions makes North Bengal an unique home for a large variety of mega-fauna & superb restricted bird species. Bhutan and Nepal are two beautiful countries having an easy access from North Bengal. Sikkim previously an independent country joined union of India later on as one of its states. All these three beautiful places are all adjacent to parts of North Bengal.

North Bengal is a term, for the parts of Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Bangladesh part denotes the Rajshahi Division. Generally it is the area lying west of Jamuna River and north of Padma River, and includes the Barind Tract. The West Bengal part denotes Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda districts together. It also includes parts of Darjeeling Hills. Traditionally, the Hooghly River divides West Bengal into South and North Bengal, divided again into Terai and Dooars regions.

Red Panda

This region comprising the state of Sikkim and the adjoining parts of North Bengal - Darjeeling and Kalimpong, is a rugged strip of vertical mountain country. Wedged between Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and the North Bengal Plains of India. This tiny region is just 90 km wide and 150 km deep. The grain of the country rises from near sea level to 8500 meters, in a short distance, The great Himalayan Range with its giant spurs – Singelila and Chola, virtually enclose this region in a titanic horseshoe. Starting from the plains of North Bengal tangled interlacing ridges rise range after range to the foot of the great wall of high peaks and passes opening into Tibet, Nepal and BhutanThe climate varies between the tropical heat of the valleys and the alpine cold of the snowy regions. With rainfall averaging 348 cm, it is the most humid region of the Himalayas. Dry season is from November to April. The altitudanal zones of vegetation range from tropical, sub tropical, temperate to Alpine – some places only 10 km in a direct line separates the palm growing valleys from perpetual snow. The varied terrain - from the pleasant humid foothill valleys below 1000 meters, to the arctic cold of the snow capped peaks up to 8000 meters, has created marked altitudinal zonation in the humidity, rainfall, climate and vegetation.

One-horned rhinoceros

The Terai ("moist land") is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests at the base of the Himalaya range in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, from the Yamuna River in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east. Above the Terai belt lies the Bhabhar, a forested belt of rock, gravel, and soil eroded from the Himalayas, where the water table lies from 5 to 37 meters deep. The Terai zone lies below the Bhabhar, and is composed of alternate layers of clay and sand, with a high water table that creates many springs and wetlands. The Terai zone is inundated yearly by the monsoon-swollen rivers of the Himalaya. Below the Terai lies the great alluvial plain of the Yamuna, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and their tributaries.


The Dooars or Duars are flood plains at the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in North-East India around Bhutan. Duar means door in both Assamese and Bengali languages and forthe Bhutanese people can communicate with the people living in the plains. This region is divided by the Sankosh river into the eastern and the western Duars consisting of an area of 8,800 square kilometer (3,400 square-mile). This region was controlled by the Kingdom of Bhutan when the British annexed it in 1865 after Bhutan War. They are now part of the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.Many wars have been fought over them. These plains are very fertile. There are innumerable streams and rivers flowing through these fertile plains from the mountains of Bhutan. In Assam the major rivers are Brahmaputra and Manas, and in northern West Bengal the major river is the Teesta besides many others like the Jaldhaka, Torsha, Sankosh, Dyna, Karatoya, Raidak, Kaljani among others.The forested areas of Northern West Bengal present a plethora of Wildlife.This mixed dry deciduous forest land dotted with grasslands, harbors the largest diversity of mega fauna in West Bengal. A large range of foothill forest in North Bengal is called Dooars. Once the whole area was under the reign of Koch Raj. Tea Gardens, alpine landscape, transparent river, National Parks and the Wildlife Sanctuary creates a paradise. Beautiful motorable roads cut through deep forests, rich with wildlife. Mauve hills stand at the end of velvet green plains. The forests echo with the melody of birds. In between, there are fabulous wildlife sanctuaries with, log cabin lodges and valleys carpeted with tea gardens. Dooars is the habitat of the rare Toto tribes.

The most convenient entry point to Dooars is through Siliguri by road. Regular bus connections between Siliguri and most important spots in the Dooars. Also broad gauge rail connection between New Jalpaiguri and Mal, Madarihat, Nilpara, Jainti, Mainaguri, Dhupguri and Falakata. Metre gauge rail connection between Siliguri and most spots.

Dooars Jungle in North Bengal are:- Buxa, Gorumara, Jaldapara, Neora Valley, Bindu, Jaldhaka, Jhalong, Malbazar, Samsing

The state has 4031 sq. Km. of forests, under protected area network which is 34% of the State's total forest area and 4.54% of the total geographical area. There are five National Parks, fifteen sanctuaries, two tiger reserves and one biosphere reserve. The PA network includes 1055 sq. km. of sanctuaries, 1693 sq. km. of National Parks, the balance are being represented by buffer areas of the two tiger reserves, viz. Sunderbans Tiger Reserve and Buxa Tiger Reserve.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss has largely taken place due to human intervention and change in land use pattern. Large scale conversion of natural habitats for a variety of purposes have led to shifts in floristic pattern (like in case of weed flora) and also fragmentation and loss of natural corridors for animals, leading to man-animal conflict. After the armed conflict with China in 1962, for example, the Army has been permanently stationed in Binnaguri, which has led to loss of the elephant corridor. Similar is the case of tea gardens in North Bengal, which have also witnessed man-animal conflict after forests were clearfelled. Habitat loss has led to decline in several species, and fauna like otter, Bengal jackal, pangolin, mongoose, porcupine are among those which are not frequently sighted today. Much needs to be studied about the underlying inter-relationships between biodiversity and the anthropogenic element, to clearly establish how harm to flora and fauna as a result of human interference must be stemmed.

Tea Gardens
The jungles of North Bengal is an extremely rich biodiversity zone but today faces, a declining rhino population, political unrest in the entire zone and incidences of elephants being hit by speeding trains in their migratory corridors are some of the glaring issues. In the face of industrial resurgence, land acquisition has become a grave issue, The locals are least concerned about preserving the forest ecosystem. Efforts are on to set up a tourism development centre in the area that will hamper the forest biodiversity. Industrialisation has a considerable impact on environment. Another disturbing environmental site is the East Calcutta Wetlands that has been declared a Ramsar Heritage Site but is poorly maintained. In the tea gardens of the Dooars, huge amounts of pesticides are used that have a damaging effect on the floral biodiversity. All’s not well in the jungles of North Bengal with recent incidences of loss of an increasing number of wild fauna and the major factors contributing to the depleting wildlife habitat are lack of proper administration by forest officials and hazardous methods of conservation. The North Bengal forests are reeling under severe crisis owing to the threat from the fringe populace residing in and around the plains of the Dooars. The tension brewing in the tea sector has caused misery for a huge section of locals and this is creating increased pressure on the forest resources. There are other prevailing threats that are posing a danger over a considerable period of time, including excessive grazing that has not been taken care of. The rising conflict between man and animals has placed certain prominent categories of mammalian species in jeopardy. The rapid tourist influx has also degraded the environmental scene in North Bengal since it generates a lot of non-biodegradable wastes in the hilly areas. Efficient treatment and recycling of waste will provide a source of livelihood for locals, make the environment safe and clean and will be a draw for travellers.
Dooars forest
The Forests & Protected Areas

The forests of West Bengal are classified into seven categories viz., Tropical Semi-Evergreen Forest, Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest, Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest, Littoral and Swampy Forest, Sub-Tropical Hill Forest, Eastern Himalayan Wet Temperate Forest and Alpine Forest. The state has a recorded forest land of 11,879 sq. km., of which 7,054 sq. km. is Reserved Forest, 3,772 sq. km. is Protected Forest and 1,053 sq. Km is Unclassifieded State Forest, thus constituting 13.38% of the geographical area of the state. Under the conservation and protection regime the State has one Biosphere Reserve, two Tiger Reserves, five National Parks and 15 Wildlife Sanctuaries. Four out of five National Parks are located in the North Bengal along with one tiger reserve and seven Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Elephant Country
Neora Valley National Park
The Neora Valley National Park, spread over an area of in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal was established in April 1986. The park, a unique area of rich bio-diversity lies in the Himalayan foothills and is bordered on the east by Western Bhutan and the forests of Neora Valley, one of the least tracts of virgin wilderness in the country sustains a unique eco-system where tropical, sub-tropical, sub-temperate, and temperate vegetative system still harbours a wealth of flora and fauna.
Buxa National Park
The Buxa Tiger Reserve with an area of 759 sq. km was established in the year of 1982-83 at the north eastern corner of West Bengal bordering Bhutan and Assam. The core area of 315sq.kms around the Buxa Duar Fort was declared a National Park in January 1992. This park is located in eastern Dooars (rolling humid plains) at 2600 ft above sea level. The Dooars comprises of deciduous forests which are densely wooded and grasslands and is home to some of West Bengal's most varied flora and fauna.
Singalila National Park
The vegetation of these virgin forests mainly alpine, changes with the range in altitude. The main tree species found are the Rhododendron, Magnolia, Oak, Hemlock, Silver Fir, Juniper, Mailing Bamboo, Buk, Kawla, Bhujpatra etc. Other flora includes primulas, aconitums, gentians, arisaemas and orchids adorning the forest clearings. The fauna found in the park are leopard, serow, pangolin, elephant, chinkara, red panda, barking deer etc. The park has a variety of birds such as pigeons, doves, sibia, minivet, magpie, cuckoo, hornbills, Kaleej pheasants and a large number of migratory birds.
Gorumara National Park
Gorumara National Park is located in the Dooars (rolling hill slopes) region of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. This small forest area famous for its natural population of the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros was declared a wildlife sanctuary in the year 1949.
Later in the year 1992, it was established as a National Park, comprising 80 km of diverse forests.
Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary
The sanctuary lies amidst the idyllic surrounding created by the mysterious backdrop of the Mountains of Bhutan and the confluence of river Torsa and Malangi. The sanctuary covers an area of The park is the home of several wild lives, which includes the famous one horned Indian Rhinos, Swamp Deer, wild boar, leopard and tigers. The sanctuary has the maximum number of one-horned rhino in India after Kaziranga. The park has excellent facilities for wild life enthusiasts.

Crested Serpent Eagle
The varied terrain - from the pleasant humid foothill valleys below 1000 meters, to the arctic cold of the snow capped peaks up to 8000 meters, has created marked altitudinal zonation in the humidity, rainfall, climate and vegetation. This factor is responsible for the great variety and abundance of the resident bird life, making this area arguably one of the richest areas of its size anywhere in the world. 527 species of resident birds have been recorded. In addition there are vagrants, and transients on migration. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the species of the Indian Sub continent can be spotted in this region.
Lava and Neora Valley National Park are the prime birding destinations in North Bengal. Located 35 Kms from Kalimpong, it is surrounded by very large tracts of protected forests ranging in elevation between 1600 and 2400 m. There are several sites for bird watching and photography around Lava and the adjoining Neora National Park. Some of the rarities that can be found at Lava are : Satyr Tragopan, Rufous-throated and Spotted Wren Babblers, Yellow- throated Fulvetta, Ashy wood Pigeon, Red – Faced Liocichla, Blue-fronted Robin, Long-billed thrush, Cutia, Rusty-belied shortwinged, various Laughing Thrushes ,Warblers and Sunbirds. Mallard
Death on the Tracks
There have been repeated incidents of elephant and bison deaths on railway tracks running through the forests of North Bengal. In the last seven years, 26 elephants have been killed in North Bengal. Nine elephants have been killed in the last two years alone. Most of the cases have been reported from a 100-km stretch between Alipurduar to Siliguri. The track was converted to broad gauge line in 2004 allowing an increase in train speed.
Elephant knocked down by speeding train
This stretch passes through prime protected areas like Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Mahananda and Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuaries. There are four extremely vulnerable corridors in this stretch that are fragmented by several railway lines.Ten cases of elephant deaths have been reported from Panjhora region under Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, five cases from Gulma under Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, four cases from the Mongpong stretch under the Kalimpong division and three in the Rajabhatkhawa stretch under Buxa Tiger Reserves.What is more alarming is that there has been a sudden rise in the number of goods train in this stretch in the last two years. While restrictions on the speed limit of the train passing through the area have been imposed, the wild animals continue to be killed on these tracks. Nearly 43 km of railway tracks cut across different wildlife sanctuaries in North Bengal.
Rampant Poaching
Poaching of wild animals including leopards and tigers continues with impunity. Three leopards and a tiger were killed recently. A poacher was recently arrested with 4 leopard skins, 10 kilos of tiger bones and 16 kg. of rhino skins. International Wildlife trade is involved in poaching operations.

Leopard & Rhino skins

Major threat to forests also comes from organized gangsterism in the field of timber smuggling and poaching.

Acknowledgements: Wikipedia, West Bengal Forest Department, Dept. Of Environment, Government of West Bengal, The Telegraph,

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Biodiversity - Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve

An Article by Mohan Pai

Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve

Abode of Sage Agasthya, one of the seven Rishis 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 Forests
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

References: Wikipedia, Hindu Feature by Ignatius Pereira, Information & Public Relations Dept., Government of Kerala.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The High Ranges

An Article by Mohan Pai

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
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.


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

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.

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, 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, 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 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


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