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Hidden Wonders of a Forest

A visual narrative about the unique Shola and grassland ecosystem and its connect with people

India is a land of astounding biodiversity. Most people refer to my country as the land of the tiger, lion and the elephant. Apart from these celebrity animals, there are thousands of other species of flora and fauna in our forests. Common comments when someone goes to wildlife reserve are, ‘I went to this sanctuary but I didn’t see a tiger or a leopard’ and ‘it is so lifeless’. Well, sighting a tiger or any big mammal is being at the right place at right time. In a quest to watch big mammals, we miss out on nature’s little creatures. This photo story brings to you some of the hidden wonders from the forests of the Western Ghats.

Observing them not only gives us an idea about the rich biodiversity of these mountains, but, it will also help us understand nature in a better way.

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The most special spot for me in the western ghats are the rivulets and streams. When we casually walk near a stream, we would think that it is too silent and there is hardly any life. But, when observed diligently, we can spend hours near it watching small creatures performing their role silently. Streams portray a vibrant and complex food chain without which the forest cannot survive. Right from dense rain forests to villages, they can be anywhere, and where ever streams are, there is a buzz of activity.

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We can watch hundreds of species in and around a stream. Water skitters, frogs, a variety of birds in hunting parties, mud puddling butterflies, fungi, snakes, insects, spiders, geckos, are some of the species you could look out for near a stream.

One of my most favourite creatures in the western ghats are frogs and toads. They are generally considered slimy ,but, they are beautiful creatures playing a very important role in an ecosystem. The western ghats is home to an amazing diversity of amphibians, many of which are endemic to these mountains. Frogs are called ‘indicators’ of the forest.  The presence of a healthy population of amphibians indicates that the forest is healthy. They are the first few species to disappear from a forest when it is getting destroyed.

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Quite apart from frogs, western ghats is also home to a diverse species of fungi. Commonly called the decomposers, they are like the heroes of the forest. Fungi virtually remove the concept of anything going waste. Everything goes back into the system and becomes useful. A dead tree is an excellent spot to look for many species of fungus. During the monsoon, fungi of various colors and shapes grow in the forest floor.

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The dung beetles are masters recyclers too. We could find then even in a small cowshed. In the forests, it is often seen near the excreta from herbivores. The beetle carefully takes small chunks of dung to form a ball and roll them to a safe place for laying eggs and feeding. It will face a lot of intruders trying to steal the ball. They way it defends and maneuvers the ball is a sight to see.

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When you come back to a stream, you will still watch a wide variety of creatures. On a bright sunny day you can see a lot of butterflies too, especially the mud puddling ones. It is is a behaviour where they actual suck minerals from the ground (wet soil, stream bed, rock puddle) to supplement their body with salt and other nutrients. When butterflies are busy mud puddling, we could watch them from a close distance and yet without disturbing them.

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When the sun is up, we can be sure that the sun rays have penetrated through the dense canopy and touched the forest floor. The ecosystem quite literally wakes up.

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As we have seen, there are many such unnoticed little wonders that are hidden in a forest like the western ghats.  Observing them is key to finding them. These little creatures make the bulk of a forest and each one has a role to play. They maintain the balance in an ecosystem which is crucial for the sustenance of the livelihoods of people. It is imperative that we protect the western ghats. Without them, its incredible biodiversity and livelihoods of people cannot flourish.

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