Conference Proceedings
2009
Opportunities and challenges for tiger (Panthera tigris) conservation in the southern Western Ghats, India
Shifting Trajectories of Ecology and Coexistence: Proceedings of the National Seminar on People and Tigers. Kerala Forest Department, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, India. pp. 135-147
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The southern Western Ghats is an important ecological subunit of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. Dominated by moist forests, including tropical wet evergreen forests, it has higher levels of biodiversity and endemism than the rest of the Western Ghats. There are 19 Protected Areas in the southern Western Ghats that cover 36% of its total area, among which Parambikulam, Anamalai and Periyar Tiger Reserves stand out as primary source habitats for tigers. The region is fragmented from north to south into the Anamalai, Periyar and Agasthyamalai landscapes. Given the crucial need for large, contiguous areas to ensure the persistence of wide-ranging large predators such as the tiger Panthera tigris and its prey, it is important to establish and maintain habitat connectivity within and between these landscapes, whereas conservation efforts today are focused on small, insular protected areas. Possibilities for forging connectivity between the Anamalai and Periyar landscapes along Kerala state are nonexistent owing to the loss of Devikulam Range in Munnar Forest Division to cardamom cultivation and developments related to tourism and Kumily Range in Kottayam Forest Division to encroachment. The link on the Tamil Nadu side, along the steep eastern slopes of Theni Forest Division, is extremely narrow and consequently unsuitable for large mammal movement at present. Our surveys, however, point to the possibility of bridging this gap through a corridor at Kottavasal. Recent camera-trapping studies by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun have highlighted the precarious situation of tigers in Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in the Agasthyamalai landscape. Therefore, establishment of the Kottavasal corridor and the Kulathupuzha Conservation Reserve is a must to secure the future of tiger in the Agasthyamalai landscape. It is important that all endeavours now be made to enable the Anamalai and Periyar-Agasthyamalai landscapes to each sustain a minimum population of 100 adult tigers. Controlling poaching of prey species especially sambar Cervus unicolor, establishment of protected areas such as Kodaikanal, Megamalai and Kulathupuzha, acquisition of failed private estates to facilitate large mammal recolonization and restoration of native vegetation in exotic species plantations are priority tasks that need immediate attention in order to realize the huge opportunities for tiger conservation in the southern Western Ghats.

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