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Western Ghats: The UNESCO Biodiversity in India

By Satabdi MazumdarNovember 30, 2022
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All About Western Ghats and Its Exclusive Biodiversity


Western Ghats, the mountainous barrier located in the western coastal region of the Indian subcontinent is considered to be one of the UNESCO World Heritage (2012) sites in India due to its remarkable biodiversity. It has endemic flora and fauna that spread across 6 western states of India.

The Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot is considered to be a cauldron of nature where plants and animals exist in harmony. The endemic species need conservative protection from poaching and deforestation. Let us discuss how important this diverse landform in India is.

Where is Western Ghats Located?

The Western Ghats is located closer to the western coastal region of the Indian subcontinent. It stretches across 1600 km covering 6 states Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. It is 45-60 million years old. Geographically, it starts from Songadh on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, right at the southern part of the Tapti River and extends to the Marunthuvazh Malai in a village named Swamithope in Tamil Nadu.

Topography of Western Ghats

The total area of these beautiful highlands is 160,000 sq km. The northern highlands or hills are gentler and lower than the southern ones. The average height of these mountains is 1220 m. The extensive ranges are interrupted by Palghat Gaps and Goa Gaps. The highest point in these mountain ranges is Anamudi Mountain. It is 2695 m in height and is situated in Kerala.

Importance of Western Ghats

The importance of Western Ghats lies in its hydrological balance and biodiversity. It covers more than 40% of the perennial rivers flowing in India. It is also the most crucial among the four watersheds that feed the rain-fed rivers. The most significant of these rivers are Krishna, Godavari, Tungabhadra, Kaveri, Thamiraparani, and their intricate tributaries.

A large volume of rainwater accumulates in this watershed and the rivers get filled. It is also the source of many freshwater fish species that are economically important. The most popular waterfalls located in the mountains are Dudhsagar, Jog, Shivanasamudra, and Athirappilly.

Western Ghats Biodiversity

Western Ghats Biodiversity

Also, Read: World Wildlife Conservation Day

Biodiversity in the Western Ghats

Due to its remarkable length and span, the biodiversity of Western Ghats is diversified and fascinating. According to the Western Ghats map, it contains one of the highest levels of endemism on earth. Here, 53% of the fish species, 54% of the 650 plant species, 62% of reptile species, and 65% of amphibian species are endemic in nature. It is also home to 325 threatened species across the globe.

Among them, 229 are trees, 32 are mammals, 15 are birds, 43 are amphibians, 5 are reptilians, and 1 is fish species. Let us find the biodiversity of animals of Western Ghats.

1.  Mammals

It has 139 mammals and 16 of them are endemic in nature. Among them, the most threatened are the Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius), Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), gaur (Bos gaurus), Tiger (Panthera tigris), Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), Nilgiri langur (Semnopithecus johnii), Indian leopard (Panthera pardus) and Nilgiri Marten (Martes gwatkinsii). Malabar large-spotted civet (Viverra civettina) is critically endangered.

2. Birds

It has 508 bird species. 16 of them are endemic in nature. The most notable ones that draw the attention of ornithologists across the world are the broad-tailed grassbird, Nilgiri wood pigeon, the Nilgiri pipit, Nilgiri black, rufous-breasted laughing thrush, rufous flycatcher, crimson-backed sunbird, Malabar Grey Hornbill and grey-headed bulbul.

3.  Reptiles

Nearly 124 reptilian species live in these bio-diverse jungles of Western Ghats. Melanophidium, Teretrurus, Plecturus, and Rhabdops are the common endemic shield-tailed snakes here. The other endemic venomous snakes here are the Malabar pit viper, striped coral snakes and the horseshoe pit viper.

4.  Amphibians

Nearly 80% of the amphibian species are endemic here. Malabar frog, Micrixalus, and Indirana are the endemic frogs. Among the tree frogs, Mercurana, Ghatixalus and Beddomixalus are endemic too. Ghato Phryne and Pedostibes are endemic toads.

5.  Fish

More than 288 freshwater and 35 marine fish species live here. 118 of them are endemic in nature. 97 of the freshwater ones are threatened. 12 are critically endangered, 31 are vulnerable and 54 species are endangered.

6. Invertebrates

More than 331 butterfly species can be found in the Western Ghats hotspot. There are 174 dragonfly species and 69 of them are endemic.

Difference Between the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats

Both Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats are mountain ranges located in the western coastal and eastern coastal regions of the Indian subcontinent. Apart from the geographical difference between Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats, the former is cut by rivers but the former can be crossed using passes. The Western Ghats are taller than the Eastern Ghats. The major peninsular rivers originate from the Western Ghats resulting in biodiversity too.

Environmental Threats to the Western Ghats

The cultivation of coffee, tea, palm, rubber, etc resulted in the deforestation of Western Ghats. The forests are getting depleted day by day making their biodiversity highly vulnerable. The flora and fauna are losing their home to the modern development of civilization.

Wildlife poaching, deforestation, overfishing, and livestock grazing impart serious destruction to nature. The forest and aquatic ecosystems are ruined by the overuse of agrochemicals used in different plantations. The development of train lines, mining areas, and tourist spots in the mountain ranges cause a lot of damage to natural harmony. 13 national parks and 2 biosphere reserves are developed and protected by the government to do so.

The Western Ghats and India’s Biodiversity

Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Western Ghats is very important in terms of the natural resources and reserves of India. Its perennial river network is of utmost importance to provide water to many states in the Indian Subcontinent. Now that we have discussed what is Western Ghat, we can clearly understand its importance. We have to be very much responsible for our actions and make the best efforts to preserve the natural wealth we have in this region.