Holistic Exploration of Western Ghats

About the Western Ghats

  • The Western Ghats (also known as the Sahyadri Mountain Range) are recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot and are often referred to as the Great Escarpment of India.
  • It holds the prestigious designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • It stretches from a latitudinal extent of 8°-22°N from the river Tapti in the north to Kanyakumari in the South.
  • It encompasses regions in six states: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, and one Union Territory (Dadra & Nagar Haveli).

Topography and Natural Resources

  • It holds significant importance from several perspectives-
  • its geomorphic value belongs to the Malabar Rainforest Biogeographic Province.
  • Their positioning makes the Western Ghats biogeographically distinct and exceptionally biodiverse- a valuable repository of biological wealth.
  • These are older than the Himalayas and hold the distinction of being an ‘evolutionary ecotone, providing evidence for both the ‘Out of Africa’ and the ‘Out of India’ hypotheses.
  • These mountains took shape millions of years ago during the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Eurasian plate.
  • As a result of this collision, the land was thrust upward, giving rise to the majestic mountains of the Western Ghats.
  • They have an average elevation of around 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), with several peaks reaching heights of up to 2,600 metres (8,500 ft). Anamudi, located in Kerala, is the highest peak in the Western Ghats.
  • The region is a watershed for several major rivers, including the Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, and Tungabhadra, which provide water for irrigation, drinking, and hydropower generation to millions of people.
  • These mountains play a pivotal role in modulating India’s climate by intercepting monsoon winds, preventing them from reaching the Deccan Plateau, and thus maintaining its cool, dry conditions.

Subdivision of Western Ghats

The Western Ghats can be subdivided into three primary parts:

1. The Northern Ghats: From Gujarat to Maharashtra and represents the lowest and least rugged section of the Western Ghats.

2. The Central Ghats: They extend from Karnataka to Kerala and represent the highest and most rugged section of the Western Ghats.

3. The Southern Ghats: The area extends from Kerala to Tamil Nadu and represents the most dissected section of the Western Ghats.

Local names of Western Ghats

Sahyadri It means ‘the abode of Sahya’ (a mythological rain serpent), also known as the ‘benevolent mountain’ due to its verdant landscapes. This range stretches from Gujarat in the north to Maharashtra and Karnataka in the south.
Nilgiri Hills Signifying ‘blue mountains, this name is attributed to the southernmost section of the Western Ghats, located at the junction of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
Sahya Parvatam It means ’Sahya Mountains’ and is commonly used in Kerala, particularly in the southern reaches of the range
Cardamom Hills Located on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, these hills derive their name from the cardamom plant, a prominent spice cultivated in the region.
Anaimalai Hills Situated in the southern reaches of the Western Ghats along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, these hills derive their name from the Tamil word ‘aanai, meaning ‘elephant’.


  • It is home to one of the highest levels of endemism globally.
  • A total of 4,000 vascular plant species, of which 1,500 were endemic, accounting for 37.5% of the total.
  • Specifically, of the nearly 650 tree species identified in the Western Ghats, 352 (54%) are found nowhere else.
  • Animal diversity is equally remarkable, with amphibians (up to 179 species, 65% endemic), reptiles (157 species, 62% endemic), and fishes (219 species, 53% endemic), highlighting high levels of endemism.
  • The climatic and altitudinal gradient of the Western Ghats has led to a diverse range of vegetation types, including evergreen, semievergreen, moist deciduous, and dry deciduous vegetation.
  • Western Ghats have the following forest types- (i) dry scrub vegetation (ii) dry deciduous forests (iii) moist deciduous forests (iv) semi-evergreen forests (v) evergreen forests (vi) shoals; and (vii) high-altitude grasslands.
  • The Western Ghats are home to a minimum of 325 species listed as globally threatened according to the IUCN Red List.

Some of the Fauna Groups found in the Western Ghats

Mammals Around 139 species of mammal of which 16 are endemic are found here. Among the most threatened species are the Nilgiri Tahr, Lion-tailed Macaque, Gaur, Tiger, Asian Elephant, Sloth Bears, Nilgiri Langur, Indian Leopard, and Nilgiri Marten. The Malabar large-spotted civet is critically endangered.
Birds There are 508 bird species in the Western Ghats, including 16 endemics. Notable species include the Broad-Tailed Grassbird, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Nilgiri Pipit, Black, Rufous-Breasted Laughing Thrush, Rufous Flycatcher, Crimson-Backed Sunbird, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and Grey-Headed Bulbul.
Reptiles Approximately 124 reptile species inhabit the Western Ghats, with Melanophidium, Teretrurus, Plecturus and Rhabdops are common endemic shield-tailed snakes. Endemic venomous snakes include the Malabar pit viper, striped coral snakes, and the horseshoe pit viper.
Amphibians Nearly 80% of amphibian species in the Western Ghats are endemic. Endemic frogs include the Malabar frog, Micrixalus, and Indirana, while Mercurana, Ghatixalus, and Beddomixalus are among the endemic tree frogs. Ghatophryne and Pedostibes are endemic toads.
Fish The Western Ghats are home to over 288 freshwater and 35 marine fish species, with 118 being endemic. Of the freshwater species, 97 are threatened, with 12 critically endangered, 31 vulnerable, and 54 endangered.
Invertebrates Over 331 butterfly species and 174 dragonfly species can be found in the Western Ghats, with 69 dragonflies being endemic.


The Western Ghats are confronted with numerous threats such as –

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation, are primarily driven by the cultivation of coffee, tea, palm, rubber, and other crops, leading to widespread deforestation.
  • Wildlife poaching, deforestation, overfishing, and livestock grazing.
  • Excessive use of agrochemicals in various plantations contributes to the deterioration of natural habitats.
  • Construction of railway lines, mining operations, and tourist infrastructure in the mountainous areas.

Conservation and Management

  • Efforts have been made to provide legal protection to wildlife and habitats, designate protected areas, and recognize the rights of forest-dwelling communities.
  • It includes laws such as the Environment (Protection) Act, Wildlife (Protection) Act, and Forest Rights Act, the declaration of an Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) etc,
  • Institutions and agencies like the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, State Forest Departments, and the National Biodiversity Authority play pivotal roles in overseeing conservation efforts.
  • However, challenges persist, including the effective implementation of policies, balancing development with conservation, ensuring interstate coordination, and addressing emerging climate change issues.

Way Forward

  • Priorities should include strengthening enforcement mechanisms, promoting sustainable development practices, enhancing collaboration among stakeholders, investing in research and monitoring, and addressing the challenges posed by climate change.
  • Collaboration among the Government, local communities, NGOs, and other stakeholders remains crucial for the successful conservation of the Western Ghats.