The latest news on Mongabay that said that the Western Ghats of India have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is indeed heartening to me. The Western Ghats of India are rich in endemic species, many of which are endangered. Thirty-nine different sites of the rain-forest are listed and they are home to Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, lion-tailed macaques, Malabar squirrels, leopards etc. Apart from the ecosystem services it provides, it is also home to 5,000 flowering plants, 139 mammals, over 500 birds, 288 freshwater fish, and 179 amphibians.
Tim Badman, the director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said: “We welcome these sites to the World Heritage List, but note the conservation challenges that they face will need additional monitoring by the World Heritage committee to ensure that these sites meet the requirements that accompany this listing as flagships for global conservation.”
One of the biggest challenges in the region is the tremulous balance between agriculture and wildlife. It is not uncommon to find elephants and Indian bison crossing over into tea estates. Sometimes even leopards and tigers are spotted. Although this has been happening for decades, in recent years increases in population and the expansion of land for agricultural purposes has meant that wildlife management has not been given priority. The area is also under severe stress from overpopulation, mining, poaching, dams, road traffic, and even tourism.
This UNESCO status could not have come at a more crucial juncture. With the increase in man-animal conflict in the area, it is now essential to come up with a conservation plan that is as unique as the problems found here. Growth in the area also increases the potential to harm biodiversity. Therefore, there needs to be careful thought given to any development, industrial or otherwise, that happens in this sensitive area.
For many years now, this strip of Indian rain-forest has not been given much international recognition and the UNESCO status might just change this. There is definitely the need for more research in the area to study and understand the challenges faced by both humans and wildlife in the area. Apart from this, there needs to be a lot more awareness and education given to the people living in the area and in the areas close by that they are part of India’s greatest tropical forests.
India had been campaigning for six years to have the Western Ghats included as a World Heritage Site, and this year it has finally been given this esteemed status.
Image Credit: Top – lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) is endemic to the Western Ghats and it is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Bottom – Indian bison or gaur (Bos gaurus) are commonly found traversing tea estates and roadsides. Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©