|IBA conservation status
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Site description (2004 baseline)
The Periyar Tiger Reserve is one of the most famous Tiger Reserves of India. The Reserve has an area of 77,700 ha, including Periyar Lake, (area 2600 ha). The boundaries are Madurai and Ramanadhapuram districts in the east, Kottayam district in the west and Pathanamthitta district in the south. It was one of the first Project Tiger areas of the country. This IBA lies among rolling hills and forested valleys that stretch across a section of the Western Ghats. It falls more or less steeply to populated lowlands on all sides, except along the northwest boundary flanking the more cultivated parts of the Cardamom Hills, and in the northeast and southeast corners where narrow corridors link with outlying hill areas, the High Wavy and Panthalam ranges, respectively. The northern and eastern boundary of the Park follows the Kerala/Tamil Nadu border along the crest line for about 90 km. The lowest elevation is 150 m along the Pambiyar river in the Kerala foothills, but this is not typical as most of the Reserve lie between 750 to 1,500 m. The Periyar lake sprawls through the uneven terrain with many bays, islands and long creeks winding up side valleys. Most of the land was not cleared before being flooded, and the bare, gaunt skeletons of long-dead forest hardwood still litter the water. The maximum depth is 42 m and the shoreline is generally steep. The vegetation of the Sanctuary is mainly composed of Tropical Evergreen Forest and Semi-evergreen Forest. In the central part of the Sanctuary, Moist Deciduous Forest and grasslands predominate. Reed brakes are primarily located in evergreen and semi-evergreen forests (Chandrasekhran 1973). There is Eucalyptus plantation in the buffer zone in the west. Among the 1,272 plant species that are considered endemic to the southern Western Ghats, 515 species were collected from Periyar (Sasidharan 1998). A new species of orchid, Habenaria periyarensis has been described from here. This shows the importance of Periyar Tiger Reserve as a biodiversity hotspot.
AVIFAUNA: This IBA is one of the most visited places in south India. Birdwatchers come to see the Western Ghats endemics and forest birds. Despite the presence of a large artificial lake, aquatic bird life is rather poor overall, apparently due to the deep waters of the lake. So far, 315 species of birds have been identified (Robertson and Jackson 1992). Sixteen species of birds are considered as endemic in the Western Ghats. BirdLife International (undated) calls them restricted range species, i.e. they have distributional range less than 50,000 sq. km. According to Stattersfield et al. (1998), this area lies in the Western Ghats Endemic Bird Area (EBA). Fourteen out of 16 restricted range species are noted from this site. This is not only because a large number of birdwatchers visit this are but mostly due to the good natural habitat. BirdLife International (undated) has classified species based on biome assemblages. This site lies in Biome-10 (Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forest) where 15 species have been found that represent this biome. Eleven of the 15 Biome-10 species are noted from this site, which is also a sort of record. In very few sites, we were able to record so many species. Periyar is also an important wintering site for many long distance migrants such as Tickell’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus affinis, Large-billed Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus magnirostris, Largecrowned Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occipitalis, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher Muscicapa ruficauda, Pied Thrush Zoothera wardii and others. Periyar is one of the few sites where the occurrence of the Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola has been confirmed. In India, the Wood Snipe breeds in the Himalaya and winters in southern India. Its population has drastically declined, apparently due to habitat loss in the breeding areas, and hunting in wintering areas (BirdLife International 2001).
OTHER KEY FAUNA: Periyar is renowned for its herds of wild Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, seen on the edge of Periyar Lake. Tiger Panthera tigris is also not uncommon. Periyar has perhaps the best representative forests where most of the southern Western Ghats endemic and rare mammal species are found, such as the Lion-tailed Macaque Macaca silenus, the Nilgiri Langur Trachypithecus johni and the Travancore Flying Squirrel Petinomys fuscocapillus (Ramachandran et al. 1986). Wild Dogs Cuon alpinus, uncommon in other forests, are regularly seen in Periyar, chiefly around the lake where their main prey such as Sambar Cervus unicolor, Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak, Mouse Deer Moschiola meminna and Wild Boar Sus scrofa concentrate. Indian Giant Squirrel Ratufa indica and Gaur Bos gaurus are very common in this Sanctuary.
Zacharias et al. (1996) noted 35 species of fish, including 13 endemic to the southern Western Ghats. Two new species, namely Lepidopygopsis typhus (Schizothoracinae) and Crossocheilus periyarensis (Cypriniidae) were recorded from Periyar Lake, while Echathalakanda (Barbus) ophiocephalus (Cypriniidae) was rediscovered from Periyar river. This was believed to be extinct.
Key contributor: The IBA team.
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/periyar-wildlife-sanctuary-iba-india on 27/02/2024.