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Western Ghats home to endangered species (Nov)

The Times of India, New Delhi, Friday, November 15, 2013
Correspondent : Padmaparna Ghosh
NEW DELHI: The mountains of the Western Ghats are the second most important shelter in the world for threatened species, says a research paper edition of the international journal, Science.
The study has calculated the "irreplaceability" of various bio-diversity hotspots using data that covers 1,73,000 protected zones and the assessment of 21,500 species which are on the red list of threatened species put out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The analysis compares the contribution each protected area makes to the long-term survival of species.
The study has listed the ghats and Anamalai Sanctuary at number 32 on the irreplaceability index. (The ghats have already been listed as a critical biodiversity hotspot and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
Many of these areas are already designated as being of 'Outstanding Universal Value' under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. This includes the Western Ghats, Ecuador's famed Galapagos Islands and Peru's Manu National Park.
The Western Ghats are a chain of mountains traversing Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat spread over 140,000 sq km and its forests include some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests anywhere and are home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species.
Divya Mudappa, a senior scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, a Mysore-based organization, says that the paper will boost the morale of conservationists and the forest department in these areas. "When the set of 39 sites (for World Heritage tag) were proposed, there was a lot of protest from locals and the government. I hope this will be a source of pride (for them). The Western Ghats are an ancient region with a distinct set of issues and problems but I think we have managed to conserve a lot of the it," said Mudappa.
Recently, the fragile Western Ghats featured in a high profile development vs conservation debate when the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report was submitted by noted ecologist Madhav Gadgil. The implementation of the report is still in a limbo as the Kerala state government is trying to find common ground between locals, political parties and conservationists.
The 'Science' paper has identified 78 sites (137 protected areas in 34 countries) as exceptionally irreplaceable. Together, they harbour the majority of the populations of more than 600 birds, amphibians, and mammals, half of which are globally threatened.
The Western Ghats is home to the Nilgiri Tahr of which less than 2,000 individuals remain and the endangered lion-tailed macaque. The primary conservation problems of the ghats is habitat fragmentation because of various land use, mining activities and some hunting.
Said Mudappa: "Hunting can be addressed locally, but as the Gadgil report points out, the bigger threat comes from ill-designed development projects. Protection (of fragile eco hotspots) is not necessarily bad for development -- it is about better management (of resources)."