The Western Ghats mountain chain is one of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots supporting significant biodiversity and endemicity, particularly among vascular plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This chain of mountains span 140,000 sq. km, traversing the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. This region harbors the largest populations globally of tigers and Asian elephants, along with significant populations of other threatened species including dholes and gaurs. It is also home to endemic species such as Nilgiri Tahr and Lion-tailed macaques. Besides the striking biodiversity and unique biogeographical features, Western Ghats also supports high human densities, often living adjacent to or within forest areas and wildlife habitats.
Kudremukh landscape of Western Ghats
The unique setting of this landscape, wherein the rich assemblage of large mammals including tigers, elephants and ungulates share a densely populated landscape, gives rise to a myriad set of challenges that transcend ecological aspects. WCS-India supports its government and non-government partners, by playing an active role in this landscape to address a number of complex conservation issues. The main goal is to ensure the long-term persistence of the threatened mammalian fauna and consolidation of critical wildlife habitats in the Western Ghats, while aiding in positive socio-economic outcomes for the marginalized forest-dwelling communities living within or around these critical wildlife habitats. Our role involves providing support to the Forest Department and the willing communities in the government-sponsored program of voluntary relocation from the Protected Areas, catalyzing land purchase in critical wildlife habitats and corridors for consolidation of these lands with PAs, and catalyzing expansion of the Protected Area Network in the Western Ghats.
Facilitating the Government-sponsored voluntary relocation program
Voluntary relocation is a government-sponsored program which supports willing families to voluntarily resettle outside Protected Areas. When implemented fairly and efficiently, it is a “Win-Win situation,” and a potent tool for social upliftment of the marginalized forest dwelling communities as well aids in forest and wildlife recovery through creation of large inviolate spaces inside PAs.
Crop yield at Sollepura resettlement site
We help in post-voluntary relocation support by aiding families in establishing livelihoods as well as providing skill-based training. Additionally, we provide access to quality medical help, sponsor higher education of the tribal students, empower these communities by supporting self-help groups as well as access other government schemes that will help in livelihood, educational and other social security support.
For two decades, we have been actively supporting many voluntarily resettled families from various protected areas in Karnataka and Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Supporting private-funded land purchase in critical wildlife habitats for consolidation of these lands with PAs:
WCS-India facilitates purchase of lands within the PAs for willing families who want to voluntarily relocate outside the PA. The land thus purchased is handed over to the Forest Department and the Forest Department notifies and integrates it into the existing PA system.
Expansion of the Protected Area Network in Western Ghats
The serene Bhadra landscape of Western Ghats
WCS-India provides support to the initiatives of the Forest Department in the expansion of the Protected Area Network. We support government efforts in the identification and prioritization of critical wildlife habitats and facilitate the consolidation of these areas within Protected Areas.
Tiger and prey monitoring in Western Ghats
The Western Ghats are home to a robust tiger population. However, this tiger population is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching of tigers themselves as well as their prey, and from retaliatory killing of tigers due to conflict with humans. To contribute to the conservation of tigers in the Western Ghats, WCS-India undertakes the following activities: supports the government with tiger habitat consolidation; provides technical support on law enforcement actions that protect tigers, their prey, and their habitat; helps in capacity building for enforcement agencies; and supports the Government in monitoring tiger and prey populations using cutting-edge scientific techniques.
WCS-India’s scientists have been involved in developing reliable methods to monitor tiger and prey populations, and have used these to rigorously monitor their dynamics, starting in Nagarahole. In the past, we have helped in this exercise in Bhadra, Kudremukh, Bandipur, Wayanad.
Pushpagiri hills of Western Ghats
We are also helping build the capacity of the Kerala Forest Department staff, other state forest departments, research institutions and civil society organizations to carry out assessments and monitoring of wildlife populations and distributions.
Identification of settlements within forests and corridors
WCS-India recognizes the need to identify human settlements within forest areas and forest corridors, enabling the prioritization of key wildlife habitats and corridors wherein focused conservation interventions can be applied. Most settlements are small, within forests, and there are often no records available with government agencies on the locations or extents of these settlements. We do this through analysis of the remotely-sensed (RS) satellite imageries to identify putative settlements, combining with careful verification of these through field staff familiar with different parts of the landscape.