Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1984, lies in Kerala's Idukki district between latitudes 10o14'57.84"N and 10o21'25.2"N and longitudes 77o5'48.12"E and 77o15'50.04"E. It covers a total area of 90.44 sq km and is surrounded by the vast Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary to the north and east and Eravikulam National Park to the southwest. Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, therefore, forms an integral part of the 1,187 sq km block of protected forests straddling the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border in the Anamalai hills of the Western Ghats. Altitude changes rapidly from 400 to 2,400 m, with the highest point at Nandala malai. The sanctuary lies in the rain shadow of the mountains, therefore receiving an annual average rainfall of only 500 mm spread over about 48 days. Two perennial rivers, the Chinnar and the Pambar flow through its landscape (Islam and Rahmani 2004).
The uniqueness of this sanctuary lies in the fact that it is one of only two protected areas that sit on the leeward side of the Kerala Western Ghats. As a result, its floral and faunal components are akin to those of the Deccan region. The vegetation types found here are primarily thorny scrub and dry deciduous forests (Albizzia amara-Acacia sp. type and Anogeissus latifolia-Pterocarpus marsupium-Terminalia spp. type) with shola grasslands (Litsea spp.- Syzygium spp.- Microtropis spp. evergreen type) at higher elevations. The dominant plant species found here are Chloroxylum swietenia, Anogeissus latifolia, Strychnos potatoram and Ixora arborea.
Though Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary is recognised as an Important Bird Area, a complete checklist is not yet available for this sanctuary. Reports vary from 116 to over 225 recorded species. However, certain globally threatened and endemic species are known to occur here, such as the yellow-throated bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus) and the Nilgiri pipit (Anthus nilghiriensis). This is the only place in Kerala where the yellow-throated bulbul is found. Other interesting birds recorded from here are the rock bush quail (Perdicula argoondah), plum-headed parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala), yellow-fronted pied woodpecker (Dendrocopos mahrattensis) and small green-billed malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris).
Chinnar is one of the few places where the grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura), a Western Ghats endemic can be found. Another globally threatened species, the star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is reported from this site, the only recorded presence from Kerala. Chinnar is reputedly the sanctuary with the highest reptilian diversity in Kerala. Recently four new fish species were reported from Kerala rivers by researchers of the School of Industrial Fisheries (SIF) at the Cochin University of Science and Technology. These include a mahaseer variety (Tor remadevi) from Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Tiger (Panthera tigris), Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), gaur (Bos gaurus), sambar (Cervus unicolor), wild dog (Cuon alpinus), leopard (Panthera pardus), lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus), porcupine (Histrix indica) and blacknaped hare (Lepus nigricollis) are among the mammalian inhabitants of this area. Gaur populations are reportedly rising in this protected area, a sign of good management (PA Update 2004). Interestingly, the elusive 'white bison' a light-coated variant of the normally dark bodied gaur is reported from this area (Naseer 2005).
The sanctuary also holds considerable cultural and archeological significance. Ancient dolmens or burial chambers that date back to the Megalithic (100 BC to AD 200) can be found in the Vasikapara area. The two main tribes living here are the Mudhuvas and the hill Pulayas who had traditionally settled in 10 different places within the sanctuary. They are primarily dependent on forest products for their livelihood; however, some do cultivate raagi (Eleusine sp) and lemon grass (Cymbopogon sp).
The major threats to this protected area include fragmentation of forests by a major public road and power line corridors. Additionally the forests are subject to degradation as a result of fuelwood collection and livestock grazing. Fire management is a critical issue within the area that is highly susceptible to forest fires. The Forest Department has been pursuing a policy of fire suppression in the protected area. This is not without its own problems as some extent of burning could be part of the natural disturbance cycle in dry ecosystems and complete fire suppression is leading to changes in vegetation that could alter habitats for some of the dry thorn scrub forest species.
Islam, M. Z. and Rahmani, A. R. 2004. Important bird areas in India: priority sites for conservation. Indian Bird Conservation Network: Bombay Natural History Society and Birdlife International, UK.
Naseer, N.A. 2005. The white bison of Chinnar. Sanctuary Asia. 25(4):36-41.
PA Update. 2004. Gaur population on the rise in Kerala. April (47&48): 11.
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