Western Ghats and Sri Lanka

India’s Western Ghats are a lush, jungle refuge in an otherwise parched landscape. They intercept most of the summer monsoon rain, creating a home for wide range of iconic animals and weird mutants all adapted to make the most of the monsoon rains.

Produced by NHNZ

Even when the interior of India dried out during the last Ice Age, the Ghats remained wet enough to support lush jungles and the numerous animals that have evolved to depend on them. The continual forest cover combined with their geographical location have turned the Ghats into a highway south for waves of invading creatures.

Rewind a hundred million years before the Ghats were born, and India was part of the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana. A relic from those times, still lives in the Ghats today – the giant purple frog has hardly changed in 130million years. It lives almost its entire life buried many feet beneath the wet soil, emerging only for a few short weeks during the monsoon to mate.

As continental drift forced India north, it was invaded by air by bizarre mutant hornbills – huge birds with massive growths on their beaks. These ‘casques’ are thought to be the result of sexual selection, with female birds choosing to mate with males with larger casques.

As continents joined up into their current configuration, new land mammals also discovered the Ghats. Primates including macaques and slender lorises emigrated from Africa. Over millions of years, they have become unique new species, exquisitely adapted to life in the monsoon forest. The lives of liontailed macaques, one of the world’s rarest monkeys, are so intimately entwined with the monsoon forest that they could not survive beyond the Western Ghats.

Termite eating sloth bears, early evolutionary offshoots from the line that also led to the American black bear, invaded India during the Ice Age. Back then, sea levels were so much lower that it walked all the way to what is now the island nation of Sri Lanka.

India’s most iconic predator, the tiger was a more recent immigrant. The question is how recent? The conventional wisdom is that they must have arrived in India too late to cross the land bridge into Sri Lanka, where there are no tigers today. However, new fossil discoveries suggest that once upon a time tigers did live in Sri Lanka and that they may have invaded India and Sri Lanka 60,000 years earlier than anybody realized.

Today, the wet Western Ghats with their lush jungles are one of the last great wild places in India. They are a refuge for iconic animals like the tiger and the cast of weird mutants alike.

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