by Aakanksha Komanduri
Agumbe- a small village with an area of 3 sq kms with an elevation of 2,700 ft also called the Cherrapunji of southern India because of its rainfall. Surrounded by waterfalls, hills of the Western Ghats and with a population of 600, Agumbe is a hotspot for biodiversity and haven for wildlife enthusiasts from all the taxonomic groups. Fungi species like Meliola agumbensis, Tarenna agumbensis, Hygroaster agumbensis and Dactylaria agumbensis are discovered here and named after Agumbe. Agumbe is home for many endemic species of Western Ghats like Malabar Gliding Frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus), Malabar Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus), Malabar pit viper (Craspedocephalus malabaricus) and many more. It is also a territory of a melanistic Leopard and a tusker Elephant. The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is the flagship species. The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station was started by Padmashree Romulus Whitaker in Agumbe where the radio telemetry project on King Cobras started.
As a herpetofauna enthusiast, I was elated to find Snakes and Frogs in every 2 steps. The day in Agumbe starts with the singing of Whistling Thrushes, sightings of Mabuyas, basking of diurnal snakes when the sun is out, innumerable invertebrates and the clouds floating through our body. My favorite time in Agumbe is at night where I feel the jungle comes alive with croaking of frogs, crepitation of cicadas and the pitvipers everywhere! The Malabar Pitvipers in green, orange, brown, yellow and orange morphs come out slithering, looking for prey. The pretty Humpnosed Pitvipers camouflaging in the leaf litter, Molluscs and glow worms crawling all over and never forget the leeches of rainforests. Agumbe looks like a different world itself with extremely tall trees and life everywhere.
The most beautiful sight is a female King Cobra making her nest with the leaf litter. She chooses a slope so that water doesn’t get stagnant, using her long body to collect the leaf litter by pulling her mid body towards the tail, dragging the litter and piling it up to 2 feet. After the 2 feet litter is collected like a heap she enters into it and constantly moves in circles to compress the litter making it like a bowl to lay her eggs. She lays the eggs and comes out but it is still not done yet! She patches the opening she came out from with some more leaves, waits there for less than a week and leaves. She bears her eggs, builds the nest and consumes nothing but water during this. Unlucky females get eaten up by passing by males during her construction work. Sad? But that’s how the population of species with almost no predators is kept in check. Alas! The King Cobras are not only the longest venomous snake in the world but also amazing nest builders where the temperature inside the nest is always constant and not a water drop can enter inside. Me, who could never imagine reptiles can be loving and caring was dumbfounded with this behavior displayed by these snake eaters and will be my forever favorite sight.
Agumbe also has a success story of educating the locals not to kill the wildlife. It was hopeful to see the locals protecting the nests of King Cobras in their backyards calling it “Namma Kaalinga” (our King Cobras).
But increasing population is always a threat to wildlife and places like these attract a lot of tourism killing hundreds of individuals of various species because of roadkills. Few years ago the whole stretch of Western Ghats was rich with diverse species but now because of fragmentation of habitat only few pockets of wilderness are left which have to be protected from extinction.