Untold Goa - Nature Stories from Mhadei Bio Reserve
Updated: May 16, 2021
A mystical forest nurtured by the mother river, an evolutionary habitat bursting with life – Join us, as we journey into a land of rich biodiversity, where history and nature intertwine in divine harmony, and where a story lingers around every bend, waiting to be told.
The Impact Society is proud to present #UntoldGoa, a 5-day excursion into the unknown and unheard-of natural landscape of the Mhadei forest and the Chorla Ghats, guided by leading mentors in filmmaking, storytelling and conservation.
Goa is a region that is synonymous with the idea of free-spirited days spent by the beach, a party destination favoured by those looking for an escape from city life. However, there is more to the territory than at first meets the eye.
A vibrant hub of ecological diversity, Goa’s rich biological reserves are the true crowning jewel of the region.
The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary one such gem, located in the northern part of the state, near the village of Valpoi. Sprawled out over a vast area of 208 sq. km. the sanctuary is vital to the protection and well-being of the region’s rich biodiversity of exotic flora and fauna native to the Western Ghats.
Within this sprawling sanctuary lies the Chorla Ghats, the heart of the Mhadei bio-region. Serving as a crucial boundary corridor between Mhadei and the reserve forests of the Bhimgad wildlife sanctuary, the forest is home to tigers, leopards, chital, gaur, sloth bears, endangered species of bats, and a diverse plethora of other endemic species.
Nourished by the waters of the Haltar Nallah, which feeds into the breath-taking Vazra Sakla falls, cascading over 143 metres into the Valvanti river below, the region owes much of its rich ecological balance to its water bodies. The Haltar Nallah, along with the Kalsa Bhandura Nallah and their respective tributaries are credited with the rejuvenation and support of Goa’s lifeline – the Mother River of Mhadei.
Lying somewhere beyond a vast canopy of high-reaching trees, the diverse flora of the region is characterised by riverine and plateau vegetation. A part of the Western Ghat's landscape, these areas rank amongst the 200 Top Priority Global Ecoregions of the World, identified by WWF International.
The Enchanted Forest
A walk through Mhadei in the Goan monsoon is like stepping through a time warp, back to the dawn of civilisation, before man left his indelible mark on the natural canvas of our home planet.
Hidden trails wind through the deep, mysterious forest, sheltered by a vast canopy of vibrant green leaves and creaking branches, guiding travellers from one enchanted marvel to the next. Gushing waterfalls, hidden groves, and the intoxicating aroma of nature greet those who follow the song of mating birds, dancing an evolutionary waltz high up amongst the trees.
As the darkened rain clouds roar in the skies above, the forest floor comes alive in an almost mystical fashion. As the sun goes down, the forest takes on the countenance of an otherworldly setting, straight out of a sci-fi flick, a magical glow emanating from every blackened corner.
What one might mistake as the glow of dancing fireflies, is in fact, a far more mystifying occurrence.
The enchanted forests of Mhadei bear witness to a curious and oft unseen natural phenomenon. Home to rare bio-luminescent fungi, the forest floor lights up in the rain-drenched months between June and October. The fungi, which grows on rotting bark and the bed of twigs and leaves that litter the forest floor, come alive in the rain, letting off an otherworldly glow.
One of several rare natural phenomena waiting to be discovered, the region of Mhadei is still relatively unexplored. A hotbed for rapid evolution, owing to its unique unadulterated natural resources, the forest is a haven for adventurous photographers, filmmakers and conservationists, hoping to uncover any of the numerous stories the forest has yet to tell.
An Unseen Habitat
Home to a number of sacred, hidden groves lined with rare and indigenous species of flora, the forest is home to several unusual species, including an evergreen species of the Ashoka tree, that blooms in peculiar saffron-tinted flowers, as well as orchids that are endemic to the region.
The fauna of the region is as diverse as its flora, with the Indian gaur, Sambar and barking deer, wild boar, clack-faced mongoose, bonnet macaque, Asian palm and small Indian civet being sighted on a fairly regular basis. Rare and endangered species, such as the elusive black panther, leopard, tiger, jungle cat, dhole, mouse deer, Indian pangolin, sloth bear, giant and flying squirrels and Slender loris can also be spotted by the eagle-eyed visitor.
Home to over 255 species of birds, 53 of which display signs of mating and breeding in the region, Mhadei has been declared an International Bird Area.
Picture Credits: Wikipedia
The sanctuary is also home to several endangered amphibian populations, including the Marbled ramanella, the vulnerable Maharashtra bush frog, Beddome's leaping frog (Beddome’s Indian frog) and the Malabar gliding frog. Amongst these are some highly endangered caecilians, or legless amphibians, including the Mhadei caecilian, Nadkarni's caecilian, and the Goa caecilian.
Picture Credits: Nirmal Kulkarni
Of the 330 species of butterflies known to reside in the Western Ghats, 257 have been spotted within the boundary of the sanctuary – a record number in all of India. These include the Southern birdwing which is the largest butterfly in South India, the Blue tiger butterfly which can be seen till the end of summer, the Striped Tiger, Common Jezebel, Blue Mormon and Common Indian crow.
Picture Credits: Devadutta Naik
A mecca of sorts for herpetologists, the area is home to a large variety of snake species, including the ‘big four’ of Indian venomous snakes: the Indian krait, Russell’s viper, the Saw-scaled viper and the Spectacled cobra. Other species found in the region include the Banded kukri snake, Banded racer, Beddome’s keelback, Black slender coral snake, Brahminy blind snake, Checkered keelback, Collared cat snake, Common bronze back, Common Indian cat snake, Common sand boa, Common wolf snake, Common vine snake, Copper-headed trinket snake, Green pit viper, Hump-nosed pit viper, Indian rat snake, Indian rock python, King cobra, Malabar pit viper, Monocled cobra, Ocellated shield tail, Ornate flying snake, Red sand boa, Sri Lankan cat snake, Streaked Kukri snake, Striped keelback, Travancore wolf snake, Tree snake, Whitaker's sand boa and the Yellow-spotted wolf snake.
Picture Credits: Nirmal Kulkarni
A network of intricate cave formations and a forested collage of diverse ecosystems, the Mhadei forests are home to two of the world’s rarest species of bat, namely the Wroughton’s free-tailed bat, which is classified under Schedule 1 under the Wildlife Protection Act, as well as Theobald’s tomb bat, whose exact breeding biology status is still unknown.
This paradise of living flora and fauna plays a major role in the peculiar evolutionary characteristics of the region, working as a catalyst to the natural process, with researchers documenting a natural curve of adaptation and evolution that is yet unheard of amongst scientific communities elsewhere.
Preservation of Ecology & Conservation Initiatives
This biological and ecological marvel is not one without its threats. Vulnerable to acts of deforestation and mining, the local, economically backward communities that owned the region faced tremendous pressure from large-scale corporations seeking to buy and lease the land for their own purposes.
A large number of plots were lost to the struggle, facing mass deforestation and being sampled for mining initiatives that sought to profit from the rich deposits of minerals and forest wood.
That was, until 20 years ago when Captain Nitin Dhond of the merchant navy, accompanied by herpetologist Nirmal Kulkarni made a trip to the region. Moved by the natural marvels of the forest, the two began a campaign to rescue the forest region from the grasp of timber and mining lobbies and cash crop monoculture planters.
Gathering a team of nature lovers and wildlife professionals, the two set out on a noble quest to initiate environmentally conscious tourism in Goa. This was the birth of the Wildernest Nature Resort, founded on the principles of minimal interference and natural conservation.
Through several documentation and research projects aided by field biologists and ecologists, the team has helped generate a host of vital data on the flora and fauna of the area. Their work has led to the discovery of three new species of caecilians, two species of frog, and one species of scorpion.
Created with over 100 acres of pristine, protected forest land, dedicated to natural and cultural conservation activities, the Mhadei Research Center was founded to address the numerous issues that threaten the local ecosystem, aided by volunteers ranging from individual researchers to organisations, and from local communities to students.
Amongst their initiatives are commissioned preservation projects aimed towards spreading awareness about the iconographic art of the region. Aided by historians, the projects hope to further the knowledge of the area’s rich cultural potency, which has so far only been recorded through the tradition of oral history.
Today, the organisation supports 200 families and directly benefits six villages, with the project being hailed as a model for sustainable ecotourism by some of the country’s best-known conservationists and hospitality experts.
Untold Goa - Impact Storytelling Expedition
At The Impact Society, our goal is to raise awareness about the dire issues plaguing our natural world through the means of art and visual communication, while simultaneously inspiring a new generation of thought-leaders towards a more sustainable future.
As part of our ongoing dialogue with our community of creators, we invite you to join us on the inaugural edition of our #ImpactJourneys. A 5-day excursion into the unknown and unheard-of natural landscape of Goa, #UntoldGoa offers participants a first-hand experience of the many wonders of the Mhadei forest and the Chorla Ghats, with leading mentors to guide your way through the thicket.
An unmatched experience for wildlife enthusiasts, nature and conservation photographers, filmmakers, and more, this edition will bring together key storytellers, researchers, conservationists, writers and creators, for a journey to discover the untold legacy of Goan history, ecology, and more, while educating participants on the nuanced and pressing issues of conservation, human expansion and the effects of tourism on a sensitive landscape such as the Western Ghats.
With a team of mentors consisting of prolific filmmakers, naturalists and field experts, we invite you to join us on this one-of-a-kind experience, as we unlearn the lessons of city-life, and dive deep into the art of science and conservation communication via photography & filmmaking.
Curious to know more? Head over to our website for more information, and register for an outdoor experience unlike any other.