Hitherto viewed by many here and elsewhere as an insignificant part of the fauna of the Blue Mountains, reptiles have of late been generating considerable interest among not only wildlife enthusiasts and students of wildlife biology but also the public on account of growing awareness about their role in protecting this ecologically fragile area.
Describing it as a positive development, conservationists express the hope that it will help check the degradation of the hill ecology which has over the past few decades been pronounced.
Conservationist and nature photographer P.J.Vasanthan said here on Friday that while acknowledging the role of reptiles in the protection of the ecology it was necessary to look not only at snakes but also others such as turtles.
Lamenting that reptiles had always been abhorred by humanity, he expressed the hope that people would realise that these creatures played an important role in maintaining the fragile balance of nature. While the lizards, both large and small, played a role in insect control, snakes controlled rodents and other similar vermin while turtles and tortoises acted as useful scavengers, he told The Hindu .
Contrary to popular belief that reptiles abhor the colder climes of the hills, The Nilgiris hosts a major share of reptilian fauna. The District Manual compiled by Henry B.Grigg in 1880 devotes four full pages for the list of reptiles compiled by Lt. Col R. H. Beddome, Conservator of Forests, Madras Presidency.
Recent publications mention around 67 species of snakes and around 47 species of other reptiles representing nearly a third of India’s tally of 283.
Not many know that a species of turtle that inhabits these hills is the Indian Black Turtle which is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Being a shy and wary fresh water turtle, it can be spotted only when basking in the sun early in the morning either on the banks of water bodies or on partially submerged logs and boulders.
This species is particularly common around the Masinagudi Lake and the Maravakandy Reservoir of the Segur Plateau.