FORESTS OF KERALA

Periyar Tiger Reserve

The very sound of the name conjures up images of elephants, unending chains of hills and spice scented plantations. Here, in the crisp, cool air of the Western Ghats you will experience the most enchanting holiday. With the animals of the wild and the simple unsophisticated mountain people. In the Periyar forest of Thekkady is one of the finest wildlife reserves in India, and spread across the entire district are picturesque plantations and hill towns that hold great opportunities for treks and mountain walks.

The Periyar Tiger Reserve, named after the Periyar river, is one of Kerala's prestigious possessions on the High Ranges of the Western Ghats. Falling in the Idukki district of Kerala, this forest Reserve surrounds the Periyar Lake, which was created in 1895 by building a dam across the Periyar river (to divert the water to Tamil Nadu for irrigation). The forests around the lake were declared as Reserved Forests in 1899. The Maharaja of Travencore, realising the significance of conservation, appointed Mr. S.C.H. Robinson as the First Game Warden. Based on his recommendations the forests around the lake were turned into a sanctuary in 1934 and christened Nellikkampetty sanctuary. The sanctuary which was a game reserve merged with the Forest Department in 1966. It was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978 under the Project Tiger scheme. In 1982 the core area of the reserve (350 sq. km.) was notified as National Park. The Reserve covers hills and verdant forests extending over an area of 777 sq. km. The Periyar lake, the nucleus of the sanctuary is about 26 sq. km. in extent. The elevation ranges varies from 900 M to 2019 M.

The forests of Periyar can be divided into four categories. The open grasslands are home to the Elephants, the Bison and herds of deer. The moist deciduous forest is dominated by trees like Terminalia and Teak which shed their leaves seasonally. The semi-evergreen forest occurs along wet stream areas and is often adjacent to the tropical evergreen forest. Lastly, the 'Sholas' or tropical evergreen jungle which is typical of the entire western Ghats in the state, abounds in this Reserve.

The varied habitat in the sanctuary supports a number of species of terrestrial, aquatic and arboreal animals. Apart from Elephants, other herbivores in the Reserve are Gaur, Sambar deer, Barking deer, Mouse deer, Nilgiri langur, Bonnet macaque, Lion-tailed macaque etc Tiger, Leopard, Jungle cat, Wild dog, etc are the major carnivores seen in the area. Other important animals are Bear, Porcupine, Jackal, Indian Giant Squirrel, Malabar flying squirrel, Wild boar, small Indian Civet, Mongoose and the Pangoline.

Tiger: The tiger is the main predator in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. An estimated 40 of these magnificent beasts inhabit the Reserve. The Indian tiger is a large animal averaging a little less than 3m. in length. This great cat is a solitary animal except when courting or when a tigress is with her cubs. The cubs only leave their mother after reaching maturity at the age of about 2 years. Tigers hunt on the large herbivores including sambar and other deer, gaur, wild boar, etc. The tiger's beauty and strength are beyond compare. No one can ever forget the first sighting of this great cat in the wild . Even a brief glance is an unforgettable experience. But it is a shy and alert animal, hence difficult to see and observe at ease.

Elephant: Elephants live in herds with a leader which is often an old and experienced cow. A herd also has a master bull which dominates other bulls. Not all bull elephants have tusks and those without are called makhnas. Cow elephants in India, unlike in Africa, do not have tusks. This enormous animal is the largest of the land mammals. It requires ten to fifteen hours of grazing everyday to keep going. It feeds on grass, tree barks and so on. The elephant is a very intelligent animal, has a highly developed sense of smell and hearing but its young are sometimes attacked by tigers, but this is very rare as the herd defends its young extremely efficiently and even ferociously. Man, of course, has hunted this great animal for ivory for hundreds of years, but today the elephant, found in many forests in India, is a protected animal.

Malabar Squirrel: The beautiful Malabar squirrel and flying squirrel are common sights in this sanctuary.

Deer: Deer of some sort is usually found in abundance particularly the spotted deer and the sambar deer.

The Wild Pig: The wild pig is an opportunistic feeder and is found in large numbers.

BIRDS: Periyar Tiger Reserve is rich in Bird life. Birds such as Malabar Hornbill, Grey heron, Jungle fowl and Jungle Mynah live in the sanctuary. 266 species of birds are positively recorded. Among the common aquatic birds are Darter or snake bird and Cormorant. While swimming the snake-like neck and beak remain above water. Fish is the main food. Dabchick or little grebe, squat and tailless duck is the Local migrant and is the smallest swimming bird of the locality. This expert diver feeds on aquatic insects and tadpoles. White necked stork, feeds during the day and roosts on trees at the night. During October-May, the bird population explodes in Periyar. Lesser Pied King fisher is another common bird in the lake catching fish that could be hunted from the water. Also takes tadpoles and aquatic insects. Nests in horizontal tunnels, dug on the bank of river, ending in an egg chamber.

Great Indian Hornbill is seen in evergreen areas. The largest population in western Ghat is at Periyar and is noisy and distinctive in flight. They nest on the natural hole of tree, where the female sits almost closing the hole and lays the eggs and remains there till incubation is over. Male bird collects food and supplies to female and the young ones till they are able to fly. The Woodpecker is the resident of the deciduous forest. Food is mainly black ants. Nests in holes excavated on trees. Brahminy Kite is seen singly or in pairs. Breeds in the area. Feeds on offal, fish, frog and small snakes.

REPTILES: Poisonous snakes like Cobras, Vipers, Kraits, and a number of non poisonous snakes forms the reptilian life of the Periyar Reserve. Monitor lizards are also frequently sighted in the forests. Pythons are regularly seen while trekking and in the evergreen areas the King cobra is sighted.


Eravikulam - The Home of the Nilgiri Tahr

 

 

Originally established to protect the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiri Ibex),the Eravikulam National Park is situated in the Devikulam Taluk of the Idukki District. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1975. Considering the ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared as a National park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 sq kms of rolling grasslands and high level sholas (evergreen forests). The park is breathtakingly beautiful and is easily comparable to the best mountain ranges found anywhere in the world.

TOPOGRAPHY: The area is undulating, dotted with grass hillocks and sholas. Anamudi (2694m), the highest peak South of the Himalayas, is situated in this Park.

CLIMATE: The area receives heavy rains during both the monsoons. This is one of the wettest areas of the world. During the winter months of December to February, the occurrence of frost is quite common.

FOREST TYPES: The major portion of this area is covered with grasslands , but there are several patches of sholas seen in hollows and valleys.

FLORA: Actinodaphne bourdilloni, Microtropis ramiflora, Pittosporum tetraspermium, Sysygium arnottianum, chrysopogon zelanieus, eupatorium adenophorum, strobilanthes kunthianus(Neelakurunji), eulalia phaeothrix, tripogen bromodes, arundinella fuscata, cyanotis species are all found here.

FAUNA: This Park is home to the Nilgiri Tahr supporting a population of 1317 according to the 1991 census. This is a success story of conservation since in 1989, there were fewer than 800. Other animals found are the tiger, panther and wild dogs which are usually sighted in both the open grasslands and the sholas forests. Civet cat and jungle cat also live in the sholas. Sloth bear, Nilgiri langur and wild boar are generally found in sholas and on their fringes. The Atlas moth, the largest of its kind in the world, is seen in this park.

ADMINISTRATION: Eravikulam National park is under the control of the Wild life warden, Idukki Division with Head quarters at Painavu (Vellapara) and under the direct charge of the Assistant wild life warden with Headquarters at Rajamala.


Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Lying in Devikulam Taluk of Idukki district, chinnar was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1984. It is located in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. It is the second habitat for the endangered Giant Grizzled Squirrel in India. With an area of 90.422 sq kms, Chinnar is a unique thorny scrub forest. The undulated terrain with rocky patches increase the scenic splendour of the sanctuary. As the altitude varies from 500 to 2400 metres within a few kilometre radius, there is a drastic variation in the climate and vegetation. The highest peaks are Kottakombumalai (2144 metre), Vellaikal malai (1863m) and Viriyoottu malai(1845 metre). Unlike in most forests of Kerala, Chinnar gets only about 48 rainy days in a year during October - November (North - East Monsoons). The forest types comprise thorny scrub forests, dry deciduous forests, high sholas and wet grasslands.

FLORA: The following species are found in the thorny scrub forests:

DRY DECIDUOUS FORESTS: Santalum album (chandanam), Anogeissus latifolia (Mazhukanjiram), Tamarindus Indica(Puli), Terminalia arjuna (nirmaruthu), Pongamia glabra (pongau) Largerstoemia lanceolata (Ventheku), Dalbergia latifio(Rosewood), Tectona grandis (Teak), Cassia fistula (Konna), Terminalia bellerica (Thanni), Emblica officianalis (Nelli) etc. are the common types of trees found here.

HIGH SHOLAS AND WETLANDS: Rhododendrom Nilagiricum (Kattu chemparathi), Elaeocarpus recurvatus (Bhadraksam), Strobillanthus kunthianus (Neelakurunji) grow in these areas at the higher altitudes.

FAUNA: Elephant, Gaur, Panther, Spotted deer, Sambar, Giant Grizzled Squirrel, Hanuman monkey, Rabbit etc. inhabit the chinna forests. The Giant Grizzled Squirrel is an endangered species. It is dull gray in colour.

WILDLIFE TOURISM: The Chinnar sanctuary is accessible by good roads from the Airports of Coimbatore and Kochi. The nearest railway stations are Aluva (200 km) and Pollachi (60km) As you travel along the road from Karimutti to Chinnar, you can spot elephant, spotted deer, sambar, hanuman monkey and even peacocks on either side of the road . This is a unique experience because generally one has to go deep into the jungle to see wildlife as in the case of most other sanctuaries.


Thettekkad - Bird Sanctuary

The one and only sanctuary of its kind in Kerala, the Thettekkad Bird sanctuary was constituted in 1983. Situated in the Devikulam Taluk of Idukki district, this bird sanctuary is a feast to the eyes and music to the ears. Several kinds of birds usually found in south India are seen here. The famous ornithologist, Dr.Salim Ali was the architect of this sanctuary. He is reported to have identified 167 birds and his student, Dr.Suganthan, 207. In addition, the Bombay Natural History society has identified 253 kinds of birds. Spread over an extent of 25.16 sq.km, Thattekad attracts nature lovers from far and wide.

TOPOGRAPHY: As is common on the Western Ghats, the terrain is undulating and elevation ranges between 35m and 523m. The tallest point is the Njayapalli peak(523m high)

FOREST TYPE: Tropical evergreen forests,tropical semi-evergreen forests and tropical deciduous forests.There are patches of grasslands also.

FLORA: Tropical evergreen forests harbour Vellapine, Karanjili, Palley, Kunthirikam, Bhadraksham, Kanala, Kurangatti,etc.Tropical semi evergreen forests harbour Angali,Kmabacom etc. and trees of commercial value like teak,Rose wood, Venteak, Venga,Maruthi also grow.

FAUNA: The elephant is an occasional visitor. Leopard, bear, porcupine, python, and cobra are sighted.

BIRDS: Indian Roller, Cuckoo, Common snipe, Crow pheasant, Jungle nightjar, Kite, Grey Drongo, Malabar Trogon, Woodpecker, Large pied wagtail, Baya sparrow, Grey jungle fowl, Indian hill myna, Robin, Jungle babbler and darter.

RARE BIRDS: Crimson-throated Barbet, Bee-eater, sunbird, shrike, fairy blue bird, grey-headed fishing eagle, Blackwinged kite, Night heron, grey heron, malabar shama, common grey hornbill and Malabar hornbill.

ANIMALS: Elephants, Bison, Sambhar, Deer, Wild dogs, Jungle cats, Tiger, Wild boar etc

SNAKES: Cobra, Viper, Krait and a large number of non- poisonous snakes

BIRDS: Jungle fowl, Myna, Laughing thrush, Black bulbul, Peafowl, Wood pecker, King fisher etc.