India’s Western Ghats: Connecting and Restoring Forests for Indian Wildlife

Photo of tiger.

A tiger (Panthera tigris) roams near the edge of a forest in India’s Western Ghats. Photo by Ramki Sreenivasan.

Photo of Western Ghats.

The Western Ghats have been logged for coffee, tea, rubber, and palm oil plantations.Forest fragments are isolating wildlife populations from each other. Photo by Kiran Yadav.

India’s Western Ghats are one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, SavingSpecies is proud to be part of the effort to save them.

Running inland along much of the length of India’s west coast, the Western Ghats are an ancient chain of mountains and hills—far older than the famed Himalayas, and teeming with forest and life. The innumerable valleys and forests stretch for about 1,600 kilometers (just under a 1,000 miles). Indeed, this is the kind of biodiversity hotspot where scientists regularly find new species, like the nine new frog species discovered in 2014!

But decades of forest clearing for crops like tea, rubber and coffee, and intense population growth have taken their toll on the Ghats. Strip mining for iron ore has left its mark on the forest, too. Forests have been badly fragmented, isolating populations of wildlife from one another. Endangered tigers, Asian elephants, and many more species are imperiled in India, and as India’s human population continues to boom, time is truly of the essence.

SavingSpecies’ new project is a ‘down payment’ for the future of the Western Ghats of India. Working with our partners, Bangalalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies and the Wildlife Conservation Society-India, SavingSpecies is identifying core areas of forests that can be purchased and added to existing protected areas.

Photo of Macaque.

Lion-tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) are endangered primates that enjoy the forest canopy. Photo by Kalyan Varma.

Our first effort seeks to purchase land adjacent to two protected areas, Kudremukha National Park and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. Multiple settlements are scattered in this area, creating an uneasy patchwork of forested protected areas and coffee, rubber and palm oil plantations. Encroachment of infrastructure, including road building, compounds the fragmentation problem.

This development significantly disrupts connectivity and movement of large dispersing mammals such as tigers, elephants, and gaur and fragments the landscape that all wildlife depends on for survival.

In short, the Western Ghats need CPR—we must Connect Protect and Restore these forests for threatened and endemic biodiversity here, or risk losing precious species forever.

Photo of Slender Loris.

The gray Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus) is south India’s only nocturnal primate. Photo by Kalyan Varma.

Focusing on even small parcels will add to existing forest protected areas and improve the ability for wildlife to disperse and find food, and even other mates. More importantly, purchasing these properties and placing them into protected status disincentives further infrastructure encroachment and development in the Ghats. Re-integrating isolated, unprotected forest parcels throughout the Ghats—and protecting and restoring them—will be critical to promote connectivity and de-fragmentation, ultimately producing enormous gains for conservation.

Forest by forest, hectare by hectare, SavingSpecies and its partners, Centre for Wildlife Studies and the Wildlife Conservation Society-India, will help shore up and increase the amount of forest protected in this biodiversity hotspot.

And what a bevy of biodiversity! The species list below shows why it’s worth fighting for India’s Western Ghats.

500 Birds including 22 endemics. Species include: Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus, CR), Nilgiri Blue Robin (Myiomela major, EN), Black­chinned (Nilgiri) Laughing thrush (Strophocincla cachinnans, EN)

120 Mammals including 18 endemics. Species include: Malabar Civet (Viverra civettina, CR), Tiger (Panthera tigris, EN), Lion­tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus (EN), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Elephant (Elephas maximus), Asiatic Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Chital (Cervus axis), Muntjak (Muntaicus muntjak), Gaur (Bos gaurus).

219 Amphibians including 170 endemics. Species include: Raorchestes ponmudi (CR), Pseudophilautus amboli (CR), Ramanella mormorata (EN), Gundia Indian frog (Indirana gundia), Dattatreya Night Frog (Nyctibatrachus dattatreyensis)

225 Reptiles including 139 endemics. Species include: Cochin Forest Cane Turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica, EN), Perrotet’s Vine Sanke (Ahaetulla perroteti), Indian Kangaroo lizard (Octocryptis beddomii).

Saving the Western Ghats and its biodiversity from further deforestation, fragmentation and other dangers will take a long-term commitment and many years. SavingSpecies is ready to meet this challenge. We hope you will support our efforts.

Photo of elephant herd.

Herds of endangered Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) live in the Western Ghats. Photo by Kalyan Varma.