Why this 'Rainmaker' must be protected

Jun 26, 2013, 23:20 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Nirmal Kulkarni, Goa based co-founder of Team Wildernest and naturalist is part of a group of eco warriors who are using avenues like eco tourism to protect the fragile biodiversity of the Western Ghats. He tells Fiona Fernandez why it's important to create awareness about this unique ecosystem

According to you, what are the main reasons why the Western Ghats must be protected?
Water is one of the most important natural resource because of which the Western Ghats must be conserved. Aptly called ‘Rainmaker’, this ancient range of mountains is like the spine of South India, and needs attention as well as protection. Conservation of endemic and threatened biodiversity in its niche habitats and eco theological heritage are other critical reasons why the area is to be protected. Depletion of prime habitats here spells ecological, economical and cultural doom for India.

The base of Vanzra Falls, a niche ecosystem that is nurtured by the spray of these falls. Pics Courtesy/tem wildernest

What are some of the most fascinating flora and fauna that must be preserved inside this delicate and diverse ecosystem?
Initiating wildlife documentation and research projects with field biologists and ecologists, Team Wildernest has helped generate vital data on the flora and fauna of the region. Since its inception, three new species of Caecilians (an order of amphibians that superficially resemble earthworms or snakes) have been discovered here -- the Goan Caecilian, the Large Yellow Striped Caecilian and the Mhadei Caecilian. The team has helped document and protect nesting sites for Long Billed Vultures, which are critically endangered species and has got the region declared as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Also, various flowering plants and shrubs here make it a botanist’s delight; many Rare Endangered and Threatened species (RET) including Amruta, have been documented and catalogued here. New range extensions, endemic biodiversity listings and identification of niche habitats has led to the creation of a vast database used for conservation and management of these forests by researchers and official wildlife agencies, a fact that the Mhadei Research Centre, its new independent research station is proud of.

The restaurant area inside Wildernest

How do spaces like Wildernest ensure a safety net against mining and other environment-unfriendly activities?
Wildernest Nature Resort has conserved a region that is ecologically very important, as it is the catchment area for the tributaries of the Mhadei River, i.e. the Haltar Nallah and the Valvanti River among others. A decade and a half after it started operations, and having purchased and declared its 450 acres of forest a private sanctuary called the Swapnagandha Valley, Wildernest has not only protected vital forests but has also succeeded in curbing wildlife poaching to a large extent and conserved a prime large cat corridor that allows for the free movement of large mammals like tigers, leopards and wild dogs. Spaces like Wildernest are in the forefront of documenting people’s knowledge of the biodiversity, building bridges between modern day scientific techniques and traditional knowledge and bring about an awareness of the unique biodiversity in the region. Besides, the site benefits nearly 200 families across three states and has been recognised as a model eco tourism venture by experts in conservation and from the hospitatility sector.

In the monsoon, what are some of the typically unique flora and fauna that one can spot here?
From the calls of the Hanuman Langurs, the display of mating colours by the Forest Calotes Lizard, and the fluttering of the Southern Birdwing Butterfly, to the sprouting of varied species wild mushrooms, the Chorla Ghats is the centre of activity, like any other forest patch in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary.

This is a time for Burrowing Frogs
to take over the plateaus and announce the arrival of the monsoon, a time for Forest Crabs and slugs to venture out in search for mates and prey. Monsoon also witnesses 10 waterfalls in full flow, including the twin Vanzra Falls. Plants like Rock Balsams and Utricularia paint the landscape in shades of purple and pink, and Malabar Pit Vipers descend to the forest floor to give birth to their young.

Factfile for your visit & stay
Wildernest and its sister property Swapnagandha are located on the borders of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The eco resort is open throughout the year.
>> BY AIR: It’s the quickest way to reach this property. The resort will arrange for pick-ups and drops from the airport.
>> BY ROAD: Driving down from Mumbai would require extra care, especially in the rain. Follow directions by the resort staff after driving into Goa’s borders.
>> BY RAIL: The nearest rail head is Thivim. Take directions by road from the resort or check for pick-up and drop options from the station to the resort.

How to move around
The onset of the monsoon witnesses dense foliage and forest cover on the site. Hence, it is advisable to follow instructions by trained guides and attendants at Wildernest. Treks, trails and nature walks are part of the itinerary. Observe rules of the forest and be eco-friendly in every way possible.

The approximate number of species of reptiles and amphibians spotted in the Chorla Ghats over five years, across an area that covers Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.

Flora and Fauna show in the Western Ghats

Malabar Pit Viper

Jewels of the Mhadei -- Coral Fungi

Goan Caecilian — Gegeneophis Goaensis

Amboli Bush frog, a recently described species

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