Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan continues her trip to India’s Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM coffee and tea estates with T.R. Shankar Raman and Divya Mudappa from the Nature Conservation Foundation.
India’s Valparai plateau in the Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot, and our hosts Divya and Shankar live and work there. The plateau is planted with tea and coffee and surrounded by a rich rainforest reserve that is home to elephants, monkeys, endangered birds, tigers, and as I discover firsthand, leeches.
Biologists by training, our hosts have been active in the area for more than a decade, identifying and tracking wildlife and working to protect their habitat. Over the years, as they watched the wildlife venturing onto the plateau become threatened by unsustainable farming, they reached out to the Rainforest Alliance Today their organization, the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) is a member of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (which sets the standards for Rainforest Alliance certification) and is our primary partner in India.
On our first morning in the Western Ghats, we wade our way through Indian savory donuts, flat bread rolled into cones, dhal, vegetable curry and lots of milky sweet tea before rolling out the door ready for anything. And anything happened to be a troupe of endangered Lion-tailed Macques hanging out together in a forest remnant on the tea plantation. NCF has hired a guard who stays on the estate to educate people about the macques as well as to protect them. The group of ten or so monkeys gambol in the trees—the small ones playing, the larger ones grooming. One older animal sits apart from the rest and when a car stops and its occupants get out to look, the monkey runs over and jumps though the car window looking for food. The primates are characterized by a white “mane” around their faces, which are black/brown.
We don’t stay too long, however, as our hosts receive news of an elephant sighting on a tea estate. We drive over small windy tracks until we reach the top of a tea-covered hill, from where we can look down and see a large female and smaller male with impressive tusks foraging in the forest area. The two elephants gather up large swathes of grasses and tree branches (they don’t like tea) and stuff it down at regular intervals. They look rather placid as we watch them from a goodly distance, and indeed, they are unlikely to attack humans unless surprised or feeling threatened.
The NCF staff know most of the elephants in the area and keep records of births, deaths, movements, etc. They are working on an educational film for workers and farm managers about the elephant and how to live and work in harmony with them.
After the elephant sighting, we also saw giant multi-hued squirrels, a pair of mongooses playing on a felled trees, and on our way home that night we saw a flying squirrel soar across the black sky.
The Valparai plateau and surrounding mountains is a magical spot and we are reluctant to leave our new friends, but it is time to head back to Bangalore. On our way down the 42 hair-pin turns (yes, they number them) that traverse the mountain, the monkeys wave good-bye, and an iridescent blue bird peers out at us from the heavy tree cover. We will be back one day; I feel certain.