Bhimgad Forests

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Bhimgad forest lies in the districts of Belgaum and Uttar Kannada (North Kanara) in Karnataka. This region is part of the central Western Ghats, forming a large corridor as it is surrounded on all sides by sanctuaries and national parks, except to the east. The site is an excellent representative of Wet Evergreen Rain forests and is home to a diverse flora and fauna. Amidst these forests lie the ruins of an old fort Bhimgad of historical importance. Therefore, to give a single recognizable name to this unprotected forest area, the region is called Bhimgad forest. The Bhimgad forest is a part of one of the largest contiguous forest ranges in the Western Ghats. To the southeast lies Dandeli WLS, to south lies Anshi NP (both in Karnataka), the western border extends to Goa and is formed by Cotigao WLS, Netravali WLS, Bhagwan Mahavir WLS and Molem NP, which are contiguous with the rich evergreen forests extending up to Radhanagiri WLS through the Amboli Reserve Forest areas in Maharashtra. Castle Rock is a small village on the Miraj-Londa railway line. The site spreads over 5,820 ha of forested land around Castle Rock railway station and village of the same name. It is under the jurisdiction of the Karnataka Forest department. A railway line passes through the site, connecting Londha (Karnataka) with Collem (Goa) stations. There is a tar road within the site, which connects Castle Rock village with National Highway 4A and nearby villages. Castle Rock has a population of 1,500. Apart from this village, there are 11 small settlements with a total population of around 5,000. These are isolated agricultural patches in the forest. Blessed with good rainfall, Bhimgad and Castle Rock are covered with Wet Evergreen, Semi-evergreen Moist Tropical Forest and Moist Deciduous Forests, interspersed with grasslands, some degraded forest and cultivation. The vegetation has been described by Thakur et al. (1964) and Vartak (1966). The vegetation changes from Moist Deciduous to Semi-evergreen at higher elevations. At still higher elevations around crest lines, there are isolated patches of typical Tropical Evergreen Forest. These forests contain some endemic species such as Diospyros nigrescens, Connarus ritchiei, Jasminum malabaricum, Memecylon talbotianum and Myristica malabarica. The mountain range and valleys are crisscrossed with perennial streams, providing drinking water to millions of people. The Mahadayi river originates here and runs in to Goa as Mandovi, a major source of fresh water for the state.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Preliminary observations revealed 184 bird species (Tejal V. pers. comm. 2003). As Bhimgad and Castle Rock are considered as one site, the following description is valid for both sites. The site falls in Biome-10 and is represented by the species of Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forest but the species of Biome-11, i.e. Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone are also reported from the site. Stattersfield et al. (1998) have listed 16 restricted range or endemic species in the Western Ghats. Eight are found in Bhimgad and Castle Rock forest range. BirdLife International (undated) in their working document of the IBA programme have identified 15 species which occur in the Western Ghats and isolated areas of moist forests in the Eastern Ghats and elsewhere in peninsular India, what they call Biome-10 (Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forest). These species are considered as typical representative of this biome assemblage. Interestingly, 10 out of 15 Biome-10 species have been seen till now in this site. Longterm studies would reveal more species as the habitat is suitable for many species of this Biome. This site also has two Critically Endangered species of vultures and five Near Threatened species, as categorized by BirdLife International (2001). Recently, Rasmussen and Anderton (in press) have upgraded many subspecies to species level. Once such example is the Pompador Green Pigeon Treron pompadora. Ali and Ripley (1987) have identified five subspecies, including one found in the Western Ghats, Grey-fronted Green Pigeon T. pompadora affinis. This has now become full species, Treron affinis. It is not uncommon bird in the forest and well-wooded country in evergreen and wet deciduous biotopes, lowlands and up to about 1,200 m altitude. The presence of this species in Bhimgad and Castle Rock (and other IBAs of the Western Ghats) is worth noting.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Bhimgad Forest (Castle Rock range) is covered with dense forest and harbours almost all the representative large vertebrates of the Western Ghats, except for the Asian Elephant Elephas maximus.

There are reports of Tiger Panthera tigris, and Leopard Panther pardus. Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus, Mouse Deer Moschiola meminna, and Slender Loris Loris tardigradus are other interesting species of this IBA site. Perhaps the most important species, for which Bhimgad is famous among bat specialists, is the colony of Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat Otomops wroughtoni, an endangered species, till recently known to occur only in one cave in Barapede, half a kilometer from Talewadi in Belgaum (Bates and Harrison 1997). Less than 50 individuals are known to be present, making it one of the rarest mammals in the world.

The presence of King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah further proves the importance of Bhimgad as a relatively unspoiled tropical moist forest. There are some interesting arboreal reptiles, such as the Gliding Snake (Golden Tree Snake) Chrysopelea ornata and the Gliding Lizard Draco dussumieri.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Industrialisation; Construction of roads, reservoirs and dams; Felling of trees; Poaching; Habitat alteration; Mining.

The biggest conservation issue is the status of Bhimgad as protected area. In 1975, when Dandeli WLS was established, Bhimgad Forest was part of this sprawling 5,72,900 ha protected area. However, in 1987, the size of Dandeli WLS was reduced to 83,400 ha, and the forests of Bhimgad were denotified. This was apparently done to allow mining. In 1999, the Forest Department of Karnataka again proposed to re-notify about 55,000 ha as Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary but till now the state government has not agreed. As it does not have sanctuary status, anthropogenic pressures are immense as timber smuggling, shifting cultivation, forest fires, livestock grazing, poaching, building of roads, dams and mining are going on. Unsustainable logging is resulting in structural disturbances and considerable change of floristic composition, which is converting the original vegetation to secondary forest cover. Thus, all the unsustainable anthropogenic activities, which are destroying these forests have to be checked immediately, and the developmental activities should be curtailed so that the major source of fresh water to three states is maintained.

Key contributors: V. Tejal, V. R. Bhagwat, S. D. Apte, R. Ashtekar, M. Wadekar, Vishweshwar Madhav and S. Thejaswi.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Bhimgad Forests. Downloaded from on 25/05/2022.