Location and Values: The Western Ghats is a long chain of forested hills and mountains running down the western flank of India from Gujarat in the north to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south. The mountain chain is subject to very high levels of monsoon rainfall and this combines with the area’s tropical climate, wide range of altitude and ancient history to create a diverse, evolving landscape with exceptional biodiversity values. From a biodiversity perspective the area is regarded as one of the eight ‘hottest hotspots’ in the world, with exceptionally high numbers of species of plants and animals as well as very high levels of endemism. For example, there are an estimated 4-5,000 species of plants, including 650 species of tree of which 352 (54%) are endemic to the Western Ghats. High levels of endemism and species richness are also recorded amongst some animal groups with 65% of the area’s 179 species of amphibian found nowhere else, while 62% of the 157 reptile species and 53% of 219 species of freshwater fishes are endemic. The Western Ghats provide a ‘last refuge’ for several of Asia’s most iconic large mammals, including elephant, gaur and tiger, as well as unique endangered species such as the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur monkey and Nilgiri tahr (a type of mountain goat). No fewer than 325 species are globally threatened with extinction, including 229 plant species, 43 amphibians, 31 mammals and 15 birds.
The total area of the Western Ghats is around 140,000 km2 and the world heritage site is designed to encompass representative areas of all the major ecosystems and biodiversity of this vast area. It includes 39 designated national parks and reserves, in 7 ‘clusters’ situated along the length of the mountain chain.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017) the conservation status of the Western Ghats is of ‘significant concern’. The IUCN report notes that ‘ this property was inscribed in 2012 amid some controversy, given the difficulty to decide how best to represent the extraordinary biological richness of the Western Ghats. Finally, a network of 39 separately managed sites, grouped in 7 contiguous clusters, was inscribed and efforts are under way to draw these sites together into a cohesive whole (including corridors to ensure wildlife connectivity) that tells the story of the outstanding value of the Western Ghats. There are also proposals and good potential to further extend the property to better express its OUV. Traditionally conserved by small populations of indigenous people leading sustainable lifestyles, the area is under increasing population and developmental pressure that requires intensive and targeted management efforts to ensure that not only are existing values conserved, but that some past damage may be remediated. The pressure from human populations in this region should not be underestimated: 50 million people are estimated to live in the Western Ghats Region, resulting in pressures which are orders of magnitude greater than many protected areas around the world. Evidence suggests that forest loss, encroachment and conversion continues to affect the property. The challenges are many, but the will by both government and non-governmental groups to ensure the conservation of the Western Ghats is high.
Official UNESCO Site Details
IUCN Conservation Outlook
UNEP-WCMC Site Description