Athirappilly project threatens hornbills

‘They are endemic to low elevation forests in limited locations of South India and Sri Lanka'

Updated - November 17, 2021 07:18 am IST

Published - February 19, 2011 02:02 am IST - ATHIRAPPILLY (THRISSUR):

A Great hornbill near its nest. Photo : Special Arrangement

A Great hornbill near its nest. Photo : Special Arrangement

If you trek deep into the Athirappilly-Vazhachal forests in the Southern Western Ghats, chances are that you may hear, from up in the canopy of trees, a heavy whooshing sound – somewhat similar to that of a jet airplane. If you are lucky, you will catch a glimpse of a magnificent bird, the Great Hornbill. But if the 163-MW Athirappilly hydroelectric project proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board comes through, these unique birds might vanish from these forests.

The survival of the hornbills hangs in the balance as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Committee, led by environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, is set to submit its report on the environmental impact of the Athirappilly project by the end of March. If the committee approves the project, it will lead to the submergence of the hornbills' habitat.

The unique low-elevation (180 m MSL) riparian forest in the Athirappilly-Vazhachal area is the only location where you can find all the four South Indian species of hornbills — the Great Hornbill (the State Bird of Kerala), Malabar Pied Hornbill, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and the Indian Grey Hornbill. Their resonating ‘tock.tock.tock' calls and the whooshing sound of their wing flaps have earned them the local name ‘Malamuzhakki' (the one that creates an echo in the hillsides).

“The Athirappilly-Vazhachal forests are the only available nesting location for the threatened Malabar Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros coronatus) in Kerala. They are endemic to low elevation forests in limited locations of South India and Sri Lanka,” says K.H. Amitha Bachan, a researcher and consultant to Kerala Forest Department and the World Wildlife Fund-India Ecological Monitoring Programme. The other location where this species is found is the Dandeli area in Karnataka.

The prime threat to the species, apart from increased poaching, is lack of suitable nesting trees and feed. Mr. Bachan says that hornbills have an umbilical relationship with the rain forests. Forests undisturbed by humans are crucial for their survival. The natural hollows of high-canopy trees serve as their nests. They are extremely sensitive to disturbances. Though their long bills prevent binocular vision, their sharp eyes and good hearing alert them to the slightest movement on the forest floor. “During our surveys, we located as many as 57 nests in the Vazhachal Forest Division. We found three Great Hornbill nests in a two-kilometre stretch at a 200-metre altitude. This could be one of the last remaining low altitude riparian evergreen forests in the Western Ghats.”

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.