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Protecting Endangered Pangolins in the North Western Ghats of India

India

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  • Photo by Francois Savigny

The moist deciduous forests of India’s North Western Ghats offer one of the most species-rich ecosystems in South Asia. A mountain range rising to over 8,500 feet, the Ghats intercept the wet monsoon winds off the Arabian Sea. The resulting precipitation and cooler temperatures create numerous microclimates that are necessary to shelter endangered species such as the Indian Pangolin, Dhole, Gaur and a striking variety of endemic plants.

Though as rich in biodiversity as the South Western Ghats, the North Western Ghats have received much less attention in terms of research and conservation funding. Due to this lack of attention, vital habitats on private lands are severely threatened as the current protected area system does not completely safeguard the many different types of ecosystems in the region.

Despite their high biodiversity value, the Districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are particularly under protected. Importantly, these sites lie in an area where the moist deciduous forests of the North Western Ghats overlap the moist forests of the Malabar Coast, and they are situated in an important wildlife corridor that connects the pre-existing Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, Amba Forest Reserve and Chandoli National Park.

To strengthen protection of this key area, Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) to create the new Prachitgad Community Reserve. Utilizing conservation agreements, the new reserve will immediately stop unsustainable clearing of forest in the area. Essential conditions of these agreements require no felling of trees, cattle grazing, laying of traps nor hunting, thereby allowing this amazingly rich forest to rebound and thrive for the species that depend on it.

Biodiversity

  • Photo by Honza Soukup / Flickr CC

A rapid biodiversity assessment within the site of the proposed new Prachitgad Community Reserve revealed 310 plant, 19 mammal and 80 bird species in a 1,235-acre area. Additionally, this area holds a variety of forest habitats dominated by moist deciduous forests, including some evergreen trees and scrub.

Large mammal species such as Sambar Deer, Gaur, Dhole (also known as Asiatic Wild Dogs) and Indian Pangolin have all been documented in the area of the new reserve, as well as Near Threatened bird species like the Great Hornbill and Malabar Pied Hornbill. Additionally, the proposed protected area fulfills all three criteria of an Important Plant Area (IPA): the presence of threatened species, exceptionally rich plant diversity and habitats of conservation importance.

The site serves as an important corridor between Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and Amba Reserve Forest and lies adjacent to Chandoli National Park in the east. It is predicted that the list of threatened species in the area will increase significantly once in-depth biodiversity assessments of the site can be accomplished.

Challenges

  • Photo byManna Lal Gameti

The greatest threat to the forests of the North Western Ghats comes from the removal of trees for wood fuel, agriculture and development. Many of these important habitats found on private lands are under severe pressure.

An ongoing lack of forest management can lead to natural disasters like landslides, while contributing to the loss of important biodiversity and habitats. Poaching, smuggling and violations of other wildlife regulations have become problematic in many of India’s traditionally managed protected areas.

The relatively new category of Community Reserve within the Indian protected area designation system seeks to change this perspective and alleviate this problem.

Communities

  • Photo byAERF/ Flickr

Local community members in the proposed reserve area are mainly small-scale farmers. The major source of income for locals comes from farming crops like mangos and cashews. To address short-term monetary needs, communities are increasingly looking to sell their forests to logging contractors.

These communities have been consulted and will be involved in the new reserve through ecotourism initiatives and the sustainable harvest and sale of wild fruits, honey, seeds and other forest products.

Landscape

  • Photo by sandeepachetan.com travel photography / Flickr CC

The North Western Ghats rise up sharply from the western coast of India, encompassing tropical rainforest to deciduous forests at higher elevations.

The site of the new community reserve holds a variety of forest habitats dominated by deciduous forests, with some evergreen trees and scrub present. The area is also uniquely situated between two important forest ecoregions: the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests and the Malabar Coast moist forest.

Solutions

  • Photo by AERF

Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF) to protect 2,114 acres of the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forest by establishing the new Pratchigad Community Reserve.

Conservation agreements with local community landowners will immediately put an end to indiscriminate tree felling and other unsustainable forest uses. Management and protection of forests will occur through these agreements, offering direct incentives like ecotourism and sustainable harvests to local communities. Important conditions of these agreements include no felling of trees, cattle grazing, laying of traps or hunting. Community members are employed to monitor the forests and collect non-timber forest products.

The new Pratchigad Community Reserve will be overseen through a multi-stakeholder management committee comprised of representatives from the community and local forestry department. Local people will be recruited as forest guards and conservation stewards, and educational materials and camera traps will be employed to further support the ongoing protection of this vital area.

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