The Western Ghats are a mountain range running parallel along the western coast of India starting from Gujarat and ending in Tamil Nadu covering the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. The Ghats are often called the Great Escarpment of India and are also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mountain range is also a “Hottest Hotspot” of biodiversity, being one of eight in the world. The Western Ghats contain 39 properties that include national parks, reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries. The mountains of the range cover an area of approximately 140000 sq. km. It is 1600 km long interrupted only by a low mountain pass called the Palakkad Pass.
The Western Ghats are extremely important from several points of view. One is its geomorphic importance. It is older than the Himalayas and is considered an ‘evolutionary ecotone’ illustrating the “Out of Africa” and the “Out of India” hypotheses. The Ghats also have a major influence on the ecological and biophysical processes on the entire peninsula of India. They also influence the monsoon weather patterns across the country. They present a classic example of the tropical monsoon system. The mountains act as a barrier to the rain-laden southwest monsoon winds in late summer in India.
Another reason for the Ghats’ significance is the enormous diversity and abundance of species of flora and fauna in this region. Many of these species are also endemic to the region. There are 4 – 5 thousand plant species here out of which 650 tree species are found. And, out of the 650 tree species, 352 are endemic. There are also 179 amphibian species, 65% of which are endemic; 157 reptile species, 62% of which are endemic; and 219 fish species, 53% of which are endemic. There are many flagship mammal species also here. Some of the endangered species found here are Nilgiri Tahr, Lion-tailed Macaque and Nilgiri Langur.