Vanishing sholas of Ponmudi
Shola forests of PonmudiThe vanishing sholas of Ponmudi  near  Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)  in Kerala need urgent protection. They have receded with increasing human activity at Ponmudi. Remaining patches can be seen in the upper sanatorium area.

The withdrawal of sholas is often a gradual process. The micro- climates that support sholas are gradually lost on account of biotic interferences. Plants die out for want of moisture.

In equilibrium
Sholas exist in a sort of equilibrium with grasslands in high elevation forests of Kerala. Moisture loss can result in shifting of this equilibrium in favour of the grasses. These grasses may dry out in summer but would revive when the rains come.

Dense tree cover occurs in troughs, folds and depressions. Tree cover is usually found in around20 per cent of the total area. The species are specially adapted to the extreme climatic conditions. Trees are stunted with spreading canopy,twiggy branchlets and leathery leaves.

Though adapted to the climate, loss of even a few members of the community could be catastrophic. This leads to loss of moisture and failure to maintain the micro climate. The result can be seen in the picture below. (Two withered trees can be seen on the lower right. The patches of shola seen on the left would once have extended to the right side.) However, the sholas at Munnar in Kerala exhibit higher resilience possibly because of larger distribution and lower temperatures in the area. Average temperatures are known to be increasing in the area and this could be catastrophic for the sholas.

Vanishing shola forests of Ponmudi

The Government is planning a major ecotourism project here. The sholas could be an attraction for any visitor interested about knowing them.But they would not survive for long without measures to protect them.Ecorestoration and regeneration are next to impossible at Ponmudi.

The destruction and degradation of forests here had started with the opening of plantations and continued for decades. Tourism only contributed to further degradation. (Vandalism by tourists on the upper sanatorium area is common). Very careful planning will be needed if a sustainable ecotourism project is to be implemented here.

The last stand of shola forests at Ponmudi in Kerala, India.
Last stand of sholas at Ponmudi Expert-Eyes December 30, 2005