Most of Kerala, whose native habitat consists of wet evergreen rainforests at lower elevations and highland deciduous and semi-evergreenforests in the east, is subject to a humid tropical climate. however, significant variations in terrain and elevation have resulted in a land whose biodiversity registers as among the world’s most significant. Most of Kerala’s significantly biodiverse tracts of wilderness lie in the evergreen forests of its easternmost districts; coastal Kerala (along with portions of the east) mostly lies under cultivation and is home to comparatively little wildlife. Despite this, Kerala contains 9,400 km² of natural forests. Out of the approximately 7,500 km² of non-plantationforest cover, there are wild regions of tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests (lower and middle elevations — 3,470 km²), tropical moist and dry deciduous forests (mid-elevations — 4,100 km² and 100 km², respectively), and montane subtropical and temperate(shola) forests (highest elevations — 100 km²). Such forests together cover 24% of Kerala’s landmass. Kerala also hosts two of the world’s Ramsar Convention-listed wetlands: Lake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands are noted as being wetlands of international importance. There are also numerous protected conservation areas, including 1455.4 km² of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
Eastern Kerala’s windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical dry forests which are generally characteristic of the wider Western Ghats: crowns of giant sonokeling (binomial nomenclature: Dalbergia latifolia — Indian rosewood), anjili (Artocarpus hirsuta), mullumurikku(Erythrina), Cassia, and other trees dominate the canopies of large tracts of virgin forest. Overall, Kerala’s forests are home to more than 1,000 species of trees. Smaller flora include bamboo, wild black pepper (Piper nigrum), wild cardamom, the calamus rattan palm (Calamus rotang — a type of giant grass), and aromatic Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides).
In turn, the forests play host to such major fauna as Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), Leopard (Panthera pardus), and Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius), and Grizzled Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura). More remote preserves, including Silent Valley National Park in the Kundali Hills, harbor endangered species such as Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus), Indian Sloth Bear (Melursus (Ursus) ursinus ursinus), and Gaur (the so-called “Indian Bison” — Bos gaurus). More common species include Indian Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Chital(Axis axis), Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Gray Langur, Flying Squirrel, Swamp Lynx (Felis chaus kutas), Boar (Sus scrofa), a variety of catarrhine Old World monkey species, Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).
Many reptiles, such as king cobra, viper, python, various turtles and crocodiles are to be found in Kerala — again, disproportionately in the east. Kerala has about 453 species of birds such as the Sri Lanka Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger), Oriental Bay Owl, large frugivores like theGreat Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) and Indian Grey Hornbill, as well as the more widespread birds such as Peafowl, Indian Cormorant, Jungle and Hill Myna, Oriental Darter, Black-hooded Oriole, Greater Racket-tailed and Black Drongoes, bulbul (Pycnonotidae), species of Kingfisher andWoodpecker, Jungle Fowl, Alexandrine Parakeet, and assorted ducks and migratory birds. Additionally, freshwater fish such as kadu (stinging catfish — Heteropneustes fossilis) and brackishwater species such as Choottachi (orange chromide — Etroplus maculatus; valued as anaquarium specimen) also are native to Kerala’s lakes and waterways. Read More…