That includes 14 endemic and 2 critically endangered species

The Malabar Ornithological Survey 2010-11, the first ever comprehensive study on avifauna in north Kerala, has proved that the Wayanad part of the Western Ghats is a critical habitat for endemic as well as endangered species birds.

The team sighted 200 species of birds, including 14 of the 16 endemic species, and two critically endangered species during the two-month survey in the district. C. Sasikumar, ornithologist and the team's principal investigator, told The Hindu on Tuesday that the Vellarimala-Chembra regions in the district were of high conservation value because of its unique biodiversity.

“We found an excellent population of black-chinned laughing thrush, an endemic and endangered bird species, whose presence is mostly confined to the Vellarimala and Brahmagiri mountains of Wayanad region,” he added.

The residents

Other endemic birds reported from the region include Black-and-Orange flycatcher, Rufous-bellied shortwing, and Nilgiri flycatcher, Wayanad laughing thrush, Small Sunbird, Malabar Grey Hornbill and White-bellied blue flycatcher.

Among these the Black-and-Orange flycatcher, Nilgiri flycatcher and short wing are strictly confined to the high altitude region, especially the shola forests in the district, according to C.K. Vishnudas, a team member. The team sighted some rare species also, including the Scaly Thrush, Oriental dwarf kingfisher, Black-capped king fisher, Olive-backed tree pipit, Speckled piculet, Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon, Mountain Hawk-Eagle and Jerdons' Baza.

The team also found Brown-rock Pipit on Chembra mountain, the first record of the species from north of Palghat Gap, P.A. Vinayan, another team member said. Rufous-bellied shortwing a sister species of the White-bellied shortwing, a species seen south of Palghat Gap, was a candidate to be labelled a new species, based on some recent DNA studies, he added.

Hence, the region became a critical habitat of the highly endemic and threatened bird species of northern Kerala, Mr. Sasikumar said, and added that the team intended to suggest in their report that the government declare the Vellarimala and Chembra region as a national park to conserve the birds. A few months ago a team of scientists of M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation, Kalpetta, had discovered 14 new species of plants from the region.

Unique habitat

Mr. Sasikumar said that these mountain ranges, situated at 3,000 feet to 7,000 feet above sea level, and spread over 200 sq.km., were unique and incomparable to any other part of Western Ghats .

At present these hill ranges are protected under reserve forest and vested forest category, he added. This was not sufficient for long-term survival of endemics species. There were reports that attempts were being made to encroach into prime forest, he said. Once the region was declared a sanctuary or national park, more resources could be channelled for protecting and monitoring of endemic and threatened species.

S. Raju and V.A. Shebin were the other members of the team.

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