Western Ghats is best described as a long stretch of mountains that runs parallel to the western coastline from Dangs in south Gujarat to all the way down to the southernmost tip of Kerala. A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s top ten hottest biodiversity hotspots, western ghats has biodiversity rivalling only a few others globally. The mountain range also blocks the south western monsoon reaching the Deccan Plateau and is instrumental in feeding almost 40% of India’s natural drainage systems. Formed almost 150 million years ago from breakup of Gondwana from Madagascan edge, the Western Ghats is made up primarily from Basalt dating back to Cenozoic era, although other rock types like granite gneiss and crystalline limestone can be found as well. Red and black soils rich in organic matter are predominant leading to rich and diverse flora in the region.
As one of the top biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats has more than five thousand flowering plants, one hundred and thirty nine mammals, more than five hundred birds and one hundred and thirty nine amphibians of which most are endemic to this region. Numerous butterflies, moths and other invertebrates are also found here one of the most notable being Southern Birdwing – India’s largest butterfly. A large number of fishers including the extremely beautiful Denison’s Barb, Zebra Loach, Malabar dwarf pufferfish, Malabar snakehead and Malabar Mahseer are also endemic here.
A major source for rivers for the peninsular India, the Western Ghats block the south-western monsoon winds and act as an excellent catchment zone for rainfall. Western Ghats are also responsible for 80% of India’s hydro-electricity generation due to its fast flowing rivers. The area is also a great source of medicinal herbs and a variety of the plants are well-scripted in Ayurveda. Nearly forty-eight protected areas have been established by the Government of India that aim to protect and preserve the natural heritage across this region. Certain locations such as Saputara, Mahabaleshwar and Ooty offer extensive tourism and recreational activities.
Although the Western Ghats is geologically older than even the great Himalayas, the ecosystem it harbours is extremely fragile. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 safeguards designated protected areas, those outside have not been spared the onslaught. Deforestation for plantations like coffee, tea and rubber; wildlife killing for bush-meet as well as seasonal fires and floods still remain major threats. Without contiguous patches of forest, animals like Asiatic elephants and tigers that inhibit these lands are finding it to survive harder, day by day. Invasive species like Lantana and Prosopis threaten not only the native flora but also the fauna that feed and live on it. A conservation approach that works more at the grassroots level is needed that also involves the local people in its course of action.
Junior Research Fellow,
Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
Image source : https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1342/gallery/