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,