Along the south-western coast of India lies the Western Ghats mountain range. These ranges are known for their rich biodiversity and natural heritage. The mountains intercept the rain-bearing westerly monsoon winds, and are consequently an area of high rainfall, hence known also as Monsoon Mountains. The Western Ghats are home to some amazing bio-diversity. These mountain ranges run all the way from southern tip of India in Kerala up to Maharashtra while Karnataka falls in the middle. The mountain ranges are one of the prime sources of fresh water to the state and also play an important role in the climate.
The rain gives Western Ghats its flavor and richness. Some areas receive as much as 350 inches of rain every year, making it one of the wettest places on earth. Agumbe area in Karnatakareceives the highest rainfall in India. This also makes most part of the Western Ghats evergreen. The evergreen forests are abundant in flora and fauna.
The Western Ghats are home to more than 5000 species of plants and about 35% of these are endemic to this area. Some plants have been discovered very recently in the last decade. The Semecarpus kathalekanensis is among them. The Ghats are also home to special kind of fresh water swamps known as Myristica swamps. An indicator of these swamps is an endemic palm found along the stream.
One of the interesting adaptation of plants found here are the aerial roots called stilt roots which spring out of the main trunk providing support to swamp trees in soft soil.
A huge variety of orchids and endemic flowers are also found here. One of the very special flowers of the Western Ghats are impatiens, they are usually found close to small streams on the hill slopes.
A large number of herbivores also make the Ghats their home due to this abundant vegetation. And the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) is one of them. These primates now exist in very small numbers due to human influence and have become a rare sight.
Though their main diet is fruits, they are omnivorous and forage for seeds, fresh leaves, flowers and insects. They are mostly arboreal, and seldom get down from the trees. And are often mistaken for the more common Nilgiri Langur as that too is dark in color.
There are other species which are bright in color and the rufous colored Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) is among them. They too are arboreal and their huge bushy tail which can grow up to 2ft helps them balance on the precarious tree tops.
Though the thick forests of Western Ghats is well suited for canopy dwellers, there are some predators who have used this to their advantage. And one such predator, a master of stealth is the Leopard.
While most animals are shy and are hidden in the thick forests, the Malabar whistling thrush (Myophonus horsfieldii) is probably the most elusive. Most often one can only hear their calls in the morning.
While the thrushes are found mostly on the ground and much below the canopy, some birds are found mostly on the canopy overlooking the evergreen forests.One flagship bird of the Western Ghats, the Malabar pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus) is found mostly on treetops of fruiting trees. Though figs form a major part of their diet, they do sometimes feed on fish and small mammals.
Some birds are also found in the coffee plantations. One such bird, the Orange Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus) feeds on the small insects that come to feed on the coffee fruit.
Birds are not the only habitants of plants and bushes in the rainforest. A group of frogs known as bush frogs are mostly found on sitting on leaves and calling for their mates. 9 bush frogs have been discovered in the year 2011 alone.
The Blue-eyed bush frog (Philautus luteolus) is one of the prettiest bush frogs and was recently discovered in the Western Ghats. Click to hear the call of the Blue-eyed Bushfrog.
Another bush frog, the Ponmudi bush frog (Philautus ponmudi) gets its name from a small hill station in Kerala were it was first recorded.
There are frogs found higher up in the tree too. These tree frogs are slightly bigger in size and have webbed feet that allow them to leap from branch to branch. One such tree frog is the Malabar Gliding frog (Rhacophorous malabaricus). There are several other similar ones to look out for.
Where there are frogs, there are bound to be snakes. And one common yet beautiful non-venomous snake of the Western Ghats is the Green Vine Snake (Ahaetulla nasuta).
The venomous Malabar Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus) is another beautiful snake from the Western Ghats which uses its heat sensing pits to track and hunt prey.
But the flagship species of the Western Ghats is the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah). Growing up to 15ft and weighing up to 10kgs, it is the world’s longest venomous snake. The snake derives its scientific name from the fact that it feeds only on snakes. They’ve recently been documented to be cannibalistic too.
The Ghats have also been home to several indigenous tribes for centuries. Venkatappa is a Goudlu tribal. The Goudlu tribe is one of the last traces of pure Malnad culture in the Indian Western Ghats, farming is their primary occupation. The tribe is no longer protected from urbanization, the plastic sheet he wears has replaced the traditional rain blanket “Kambli”. All is not lost, “Muttale” – the arecanut leaf headgear still remains.
As urbanization creeps into these beautiful habitats, the forest suffers. As forests make way to towns and tea plantations, the Western Ghats face a bleak future.
As more roads cut across the forests, the animals have to make way for the traffic at the cost of their lives
These Ghats that are home to several species of animals are also life giving. They refresh the atmosphere with the oxygen they produce. The Ghats also account for most rivers that feed our towns and cities. The loss of these forests have far reaching consequences than we can comprehend now.