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Along the west coast runs the 1,600km-long chain of mountains known as the Western Ghats. Far older than the Himalayas in the north, the Western Ghats house some of the most diverse and intact rainforests in peninsular India.

These mountain ranges have attained recognition as a biologically unique area for conservation. Biologists have included it in the 34 hot spots of biological diversity in the world because of the large number of plant and animal species it contains, including hundreds that are not found elsewhere, says US-based wildlife non-governmental organization Conservation International (CI). More recently, in the assessment by CI, the Western Ghats have also been recognized as one of the 200 globally most valuable eco-regions for the conservation of the diversity of life on earth.

Click here to see a slideshow on the lion-tailed macaque

And like many other regions that are biologically rich and crucial for conservation, the Western Ghats today face increasing degradation and loss of habitats, and a number of other threats to the survival of wild species—particularly due to developmental projects such as roads and reservoirs. This is not surprising—among all the global hot spots, this is the one with the highest human population density.

The Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) that lives only in this region ranks among one of the most threatened primates in the world. It is dark-brown or black with a silver-white mane which surrounds the head from the cheeks down to its chin, giving the monkey its German name of “Beard Ape".

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In many ways, this macaque is the symbol of the endemic and endangered diversity of the Western Ghats. They are the “Knights of the rainforests", being pushed to the edge.

Kalyan Varma ( is a Bangalore-based wildlife photographer and film-maker. In 2005, he won the Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. He freelances with BBC’s natural history unit, the BBC Earth series, and has been published in magazines such as the National Geographic, GEO and Wildlife Conservation. Varma is part of the team that runs India Nature Watch, an online community which hosts the largest number of wildlife photographs in Asia.

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