Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Wynaad derives its name from the numerous swamps (locally called vayals). Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary is situated contiguous to the protected area network of Nagarhole and Bandipur (Karnataka) in the northeast and Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) in the southeast. The area falls in Wynaad revenue district of Kerala as two discontinuous segments. The northern segment is the Tholpetty Wildlife Range in Manantoddy taluka, lying adjacent to Nagarhole National Park. The southern segment comprises of Kurichiat, Sultan’s Battery and Muthanga Wildlife Ranges, lying adjacent to Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The total area measures 34,444 ha. A wide area of cultivation separates the two segments. There are extensive plantations and several cultivated enclosures within the Sanctuary, constituting the major portion of the Sanctuary. Wynaad is an extension of the Deccan plateau to the west, bounded by Coorg and Mysore in the north and east, Nilgiris in the south and Mallapuram and Calicut in the southwest. The Ghat section is separated by the Brahmagiri Dindimal ranges. The average altitude of the plateau is 700 m, but many peaks exceed 1,500 m. The only river, the Kabani, originates in the Western Ghats and flows east (Zacharias and Gaston 1997). Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary forms a western part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which bears several forest types such as the Deciduous, Moist Deciduous, Semi-evergreen and Evergreen types. Wynaad is considered one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries of the Western Ghats. The migratory paths of terrestrial wildlife of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve end at Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary in the northwest portion. Hence this forest is significant from the protection point of view. Wynaad receives more rain than the adjacent tracts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This results in the annual mass movement of major herbivores to the Wynaad portion during the lean period. Hence, it is all the more important that Wynaad forest should be adequately protected. The Sanctuary was declared in 1973, but is being protected effectively only after bringing it under the Wynaad Wildlife Division, formed in 1985. Moist Deciduous Forest is the climax vegetation of the area, occurring in areas with an annual rainfall of 1100-1900 mm. Except along the western edges and in a few other pockets, climatic conditions do not favour the formation of climax evergreen vegetation. Despite the removal of teak, two Moist Deciduous forest sub-types are still discernible: forests with and without teak Tectona grandis in areas of lower and higher rainfall, respectively. Where teak is predominant, the forest generally attains a height of about 20 m and the canopy is more or less closed; the soil is reddish and deep, and typically supports a thin herbaceous cover. The marshes have a lush growth of grasses and the good bamboo Bambusa arundinacea growth occurs along their edges. Nair et al. (1978) provide a more detailed description of the vegetation, and lists of common tree, shrub, climber and grass species.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Two hundred and seventy five bird species have been reported from Wynaad district (Zacharias and Gaston 1997). Nine of the species are endemic to the Western Ghats, and several others have disjunct distribution in the Indian subcontinent. Of the resident species, 41 are confined to evergreen and semi-evergreen biotopes and 66 occur only in deciduous biotopes. A total of 150 species show evidence of breeding, including the rarely recorded Ceylon Frogmouth Batrachostomus moniliger. Nineteen species had not previously been recorded breeding in Kerela, including the Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica, a species previously believed to be only a winter visitor (Zacharias and Gaston 1997). By comparing their study results with a previous survey of Davison (1883), Zacharias and Gaston (1997) found evidence of decline of 20 species, and 17 species were not seen at all. Wynaad lies in the Western Ghats Endemic Bird Area (EBA). In this EBA, Stattersfield et al. (1998) have identified 16 restricted range or endemic species. All the 16 species are found here. This is one of the few IBAs in the Western Ghats where every restricted range species is found. Uthaman (1993) had seen a Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni in December 1991, but no further details are available. Zacharias and Gaston (1997) also list this species. Beside the restricted range species, this site also has two Critically Endangered Gyps species of vultures, and five globally threatened species. If we include the Near Threatened species, the list would increase further. This is one of the few sites where the Wood Snipe Gallinago nemoricola has been confirmed. Zacharias and Gaston (1997) in their paper writes “common” in the table, although the text implies that the species was “uncommon or rare” at all sites visited by them (BirdLife International 2001). The Broad-tailed Grass-Warbler or Grassbird Schoenicola platyura was considered as “uncommon” by Zacharias and Gaston (1999) in the Wynaad Ghats. Another globally threatened species found here is the Nilgiri or Rufousbreasted Laughingthrush Garrulax cachinnans. Zacharias and Gaston (1993) found it as a rare resident in Wynaad district. Interestingly, the globally Vulnerable White-winged Black Tit or Pied Tit Parus nuchalis, a bird of dry scrub forest, is also reported from here, especially in those portions that fall in the Deccan plateau zone. BirdLife International (undated) has categorized species according to their biome assemblages. This site falls in Biome-10 (Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forest), in which 15 species are considered as representative of this biome. Except for the Jerdon’s Nightjar Caprimulgus atripennis, all other species are found here. Probably, this nightjar was missed by Zacharias and Gaston (1997) as it is quite widely distributed, especially in drier areas, which are present in Wynaad. This IBA is also an important wintering site for many forest birds of the temperate and tropical forest zones of the Himalayas. The list is too long to be mentioned here (see Zacharias and Gaston 1997).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for its large mammals. Almost all the species of the Western Ghats are seen here, but the most famous ones are the Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, the Gaur Bos gaurus, the Nilgiri Langur Trachypithecus johni, the Tiger Panthera tigris, the Leopard Panthera pardus and the Indian Wild Dog Cuon alpinus. Thomas et al. (1997) have recorded 44 species of reptiles, of which 12 are considered to be endangered.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Firewood collection; Grazing.

The most disturbing feature of Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary is the large number of settlements with cultivation. The Southern Ranges have 80 settlements and Tholpetty Range has 9. The settlements in Southern Ranges are confined to the Moist Deciduous Forests. People have occupied almost all the vayals with perennial water sources. A population of more than 25,000 people live in and around the Protected Area. The main occupation is agriculture, for cash crops such as coffee, pepper and coconut, followed by primary crops paddy, ginger, tapioca and plantations. Electric fencing, provided by the Forest Department, protects few settlements. A total of 166 km length of electric fencing has been erected in the IBA to prevent crop damage by wild animals. Livestock holdings are confined mostly to goats and cattle. These animals are mostly left to feed inside the sanctuary. Cattle lifting by Leopard and Tiger are not uncommon.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 13/06/2021.