INDIA – KOZHIKODE: Endangered songbird species Banasura Chilappan (Banasura Laughingthrush/ Montecincla jerdoni), found only in two mountain-top sky islands in Wayanad, has had its sole habitat ravaged by forest fire for the second year in a row.
A forest fire in the Meppadi forest range in South Wayanad forest division on Sunday gutted over 20 hectares of grasslands in the Elembileri mountains which are part of the Camel’s Hump mountains, the habitat of the unique laughingthrush species which was discovered just last year.
The species with a population of below 1,000 birds is confined to the shola forests on two highest mountain tops of Wayanad-the Camel’s Hump mountain range comprising the Chembra peak and the Banasura mountains-with the total habitat extending to just around 50 square kilometres.
Last year too a forest fire on the Chembra peak had destroyed large swatches of grasslands in the peak.
Conservationists have called for creating a special protected area covering the shola forests and adjoining grasslands in the high-altitude montane habitat to save the endangered birds from extinction.
“The global distribution of the endangered bird species is limited to the shola forests in the mountain tops of Wayanad and that too above an altitude of 1,700 metres. Unfortunately, the area is not part of any protected area or sanctuary and forest fires have been recurring in grasslands bordering the shola forests. It is high time that the shola forest and adjoining grass lands should be given high conservation priority to save the bird from extinction,” said ornithologist C K Vishnudas who was part of the team of researchers who described Banasura Chilappan as a separate species in 2017.
Previously, it was considered as a subspecies of the black-chinned laughingthrush.
Vishnudas said as the mountain peaks had steep slopes, periodic fires were devouring the grass lands and exposing the soil and rock to rain, thereby exacerbating surface water run-off and soil erosion. Also, the fires are eating into the shola edges, threatening the habitat of the bird.
“The endangered bird species live in one of the most threatened habitats as the patches of shola forests are highly fragmented and facing a host of anthropogenic pressures,” he added.
Wayanad prakrithi samrakshana samithi president N Badusha said though the conservationists had submitted a proposal to declare the Camel’s Hump mountain range and adjoining forests into a wildlife sanctuary long back, the authorities are yet to act on it.
“Also, the shola forest-grassland ecosystem plays a key role in water harvesting and storage and the streams of Kabini river originate from the Chembra and nearby mountain tops,” he added.