The India Plan (or Warming Up the Blogging Center of my Brain)

20/12/2013

My plan—the implementation of which is already underway—is to meet the wild lands of southern India.  There’s a lot that’s paradoxical of a country with a population of over a billion people and yet home to one of the named “hottest hot spots” for conservation priorities. Myers et al. (2000) identified sites based on such things as richness and density of endemic plant species and vertebrate species and percent of extent of primary vegetation. In the Western Ghats region (including Sri Lanka) there are 12,450 km2 of primary vegetation remaining out of an original extent of 182,500 km2. That’s 6.8 percent. All of that 12,450 km2 is within the boundaries of protected reserves or national parks, which means that there are no wild lands in southern India except in the reserves.

The way things look on the map is that most of these protected areas are rather small and overall the reserve system is highly fragmented, except in the Nilgiri Hills area where a bunch of reserves and parks are strung together to form the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. That’s where I’m going.

My contact in India will be Dr. Mani of Bharathiar University in Coimbatore. He is a prominent fish biologist, whose name I got off the “Fishes of the Western Ghats” posters that I googled up as I was starting to plan this trip. The idea was simple: if you want to see really nice stuff, follow the guy who knows the freshwater fishes. I emailed him to ask if he had a grad student I could pay to take me to some of the collection sites for his research, and the response was basically “Heck, I’ll take you around myself!” Bonus.

So for the next couple of weeks there will be a couple of older dudes (and maybe a grad student or two in tow—you know, to carry the luggage) tooling around in some remote-looking stretches of the last remaining wild lands in southern India. We’ll be collecting fish, identifying plants and insects, pulling leeches out of our socks, and maybe swimming under waterfalls along the way.

But right now I’m in the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt washing down unlimited free pretzels with unlimited but rather warm beer. I plan to sleep the whole flight to Bangalore.

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