IN162
Melghat Tiger Reserve


Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
The Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve lies at the northern extreme of Amravati district of Maharashtra on the Madhya Pradesh border. It is situated on a southern offshoot of the Satpura range. The name Melghat means the place where the ghats meet. The core area (36,128 ha) is formed by the Gugamal National Park and the buffer area (78,828 ha), by the Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary. These were together re-notified by the state government in 1994 as the Melghat Tiger Reserve. The remaining area (52,693 ha) is managed as a ‘multiple use area’. The Variat Devi Point in the Chikaldhara Plateau is at 1,178 m, the highest point in Melghat. The vegetation is mainly Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest. Besides these forests, there are grassy meadows throughout the Reserve, especially on the hilltops. The terrain of the Melghat Tiger Reserve is a rugged portion of the Gavilgarh hills, which are a part of the Satpuras. Topographically it consists of a succession of hills and valleys. The main ridge, called Gavilgarh Ridge, runs east-west on the southern part of the Reserve. It is a flat plateau on top, descending in abrupt and sharp precipitous scarps on both sides and then steep slopes down to narrow valleys. These abrupt variations in altitude, aspect and gradient are seen throughout the Reserve. The Plateau was earlier used for agriculture. The Reserve is a catchment area for five major streams, all of which are tributaries of the River Tapti. The forest type is Tropical Dry Deciduous, dominated by Teak Tectona grandis and Bamboo. There are patches of Semi-evergreen and Moist Deciduous Forests. The dominant species is Teak (30- 70%), which was planted in a large area clear felled for this purpose. There are many species of orchids, ferns, grasses and other herbs. The common epiphytic orchids are Aerides, Rhynchostylis and Vanda. Ceropegia odorata, an extremely rare species, is found in this area.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The recently rediscovered Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewetti has been sighted in this IBA. During a BNHS study in 2000 intended to gather information on the status and distribution of the Forest Owlet in India, one bird was sighted (Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2000). Later, K. Rithe and P. M. Lad (pers. comm. 2003) have seen 4-5 pairs. In a recent survey in March 2004, 39 individuals of this species were seen in Melghat area (G. Jathar, per comm. 2004). After Shahada and Taloda in western Maharashtra (both IBAs), Melghat is the most important site for this Critically Endangered species. Rithe (2003) also identified two Forest Owlets at Raipur, two at Malur, four at Jamodapadao in Melghat and a solitary bird at Mahendri, east of Melghat. He has recorded 10 individuals so far, and estimated a total population of about 50 birds at Melghat and the adjoining forests of Betul and Burhanpur districts in Madhya Pradesh. Savarkar (1987) has identified 252 species of birds from this IBA site. Important old record is of Fairy Bluebird Irena puella and recent records of Great Black Woodpecker Dryocopus javensis, Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis and Black-capped Kingfisher H. pileata (Rithe 2003). Kasambe (2002) added four more species to the Melghat bird list: Little Green Heron Butorides striatus, Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Sparrow-Hawk Accipiter nisus and Crested Bunting Melophus lathami. Melghat is one of the best areas to see species of the Indo- Malayan Tropical Dry Zone (Biome-11). Out of the 59 species identified by BirdLife International (undated), 44 have been seen here till now. Melghat Tiger Reserves is one of the few sites in India that come under the Secondary Area category of BirdLife International (undated) and Stattersfield et al. (1998). Secondary area is an area which supports one or more restricted range species, but does not qualify as an Endemic Bird Area because fewer that two species are entirely confined to it.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Almost all the large and small mammals of central India are found in Melghat, from the Tiger Panthera tigris, Leopard Panthera pardus, Gaur Bos frontalis, Sambar Cervus unicolor, Chital Axis axis, Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak, Wild Boar Sus scrofa, Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus and Four-horned Antelope Tetracerus quadricornis, Indian Giant Squirrel Ratufa indica, Common Langur Semnopithecus entellus and Bonnet Macaque Macaca radiata.

The Caracal Felis caracal is also reported here, along with many other smaller cats. The faunal diversity includes 30 species of reptiles, 74 of butterflies, 23 of fish, 5 species of amphibians and 26 species of spiders.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Invasion of exotic species; Agricultural intensification and expansion; Firewood collection; Grazing; Shifting cultivation; Unsustainable exploitation.

There are about 58 villages, with a population of over 24,335 people inside the Sanctuary, most of them being labourers who were brought into the area for timber harvesting and stayed on. Relocation and settlement of rights are planned for 29 villages and have already begun in three villages. The village have been relocated to areas outside the Sanctuary. The Forest Department has initiated ecodevelopment schemes on the fringes of the Sanctuary. Although there are plans to relocate all the villages, the whole exercise is extremely expensive, so the State Government and Forest Department are planning to realign the boundaries of the National Park. More than 20,000 heads of cattle roam in the Sanctuary, as a result of which the Sanctuary has been depleted of almost all undergrowth. Two state highways pass through the Reserve. Lantana camara and Hyptis suaveolens have spread to occupy almost 30% and 20% of the Reserve respectively. Two projects are a cause of serious concern for the future of Melghat Tiger Reserve: the first is a highway being built through the Reserve; the second a pumped water storage scheme in the adjacent area. Chikaldhara Pumped Storage Project: This proposed project is on the boundary of the tiger reserve and 100 ha of forest is going to be submerged under water. The area has prime deciduous forest and is frequented by tigers and leopards. Denotification plan: In 1994, 500 sq. km. of Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary was denotified, and this drastically reduced the level of protection afforded to this area. Consequently, several illegal activities began in the denotified area. Incidents of encroachment, illegal timber traffic, poaching and mining have increased sharply.

Acknowledgements
Key contributors: Kishore Rithe, Deepak Apte, Dilip Yardi, S. Jhunjhunwala, B. Raha and N. B. Bhure.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Melghat Tiger Reserve. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 09/02/2023.