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Photo Essay

Trek to Amboli: When the night comes alive

Print edition : Sep 23, 2022 T+T-

Trek to Amboli: When the night comes alive

Naturalists and enthusiasts on a night trek in Amboli.

Naturalists and enthusiasts on a night trek in Amboli. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Come monsoon, head to the Western Ghats, if amphibians and reptiles are the stuff of your dreams.

A little gem in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, the Amboli forest is a hotspot that attracts researchers, wildlife photographers, and nature enthusiasts by droves. The forest comes to life with a large variety of nocturnal creatures during the monsoon season. One of the wettest places in India, it is often described as the Cherrapunji of Maharashtra. Located in Sindhudurg district, the forest is all about dark canopies, free-flowing streams, and frogs. The Amboli ghat has always been popular as a weekend getaway, with visitors exploring its waterfalls as well as the temples and caves there.

Bellinger gecko which doesn’t have eyelids cleansing its eyes using its tongue.
Bellinger gecko which doesn’t have eyelids cleansing its eyes using its tongue. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
Nilgiri keelback, commonly known as Beddome’s keelback.
Nilgiri keelback, commonly known as Beddome’s keelback. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

About a decade ago, researchers and nature enthusiasts started showing interest in the wilds of Amboli. Since then they have discovered dozens of new species of reptiles and amphibians. Wildlife researcher Tejas Thackeray, the younger son of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and his team have discovered new species of crabs and fish here. Following one such discovery of a rare freshwater fish species in early 2021, the government declared an area in Amboli as a biodiversity heritage site.

Indirana Chiravasi, commonly known as Amboli leaping frog.
Indirana Chiravasi, commonly known as Amboli leaping frog. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini
A Malabar gliding froglet, pre-adult stage.
A Malabar gliding froglet, pre-adult stage. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Today, Amboli is known for the sheer abundance of its herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians). Monsoon nights are filled with croaks and whistles of frogs and toads eager to spawn the next generation, among them the critically endangered Amboli tiger toad and the endemic Amboli bush frog. Besides nocturnal creatures, the hill station is a haven for a wide variety of flora and fauna.

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Indian Tiger Centipede.
Indian Tiger Centipede. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
The Malabar pit viper, a venomous species.
The Malabar pit viper, a venomous species. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

The majority of the pictures featured here were taken in the Amboli forest park. A trained guide combs through leaf litter, tree hollows, and shallow ponds to unearth secretive insects, reptiles, amphibians, and even crustaceans such as the endemic purple crab. Parikshit Point is where the trail becomes denser and wilder.

Purple tree crab on a tree in Amboli.
Purple tree crab on a tree in Amboli. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
Amboli Bush Frog with enlarged vocal sac for mating calls.
Amboli Bush Frog with enlarged vocal sac for mating calls. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Mahadev (Kaka) Bhise, honorary wildlife warden of Sindhudurg and president of Malabar Nature Conservation Club, said: “In the early 2000s, Dr Varad Giri, Senior Researcher from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and his team visited Amboli to study reptiles and amphibians of the area. It is because of his work that many people, including me, developed an interest in wildlife and nature conservation.”

The green vine snake, a mildly venomous snake.
The green vine snake, a mildly venomous snake. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
Beddome’s cat snake.
Beddome’s cat snake. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

He added: “Along with Rohan Korgaonkar and Hemant Olage, I started rescuing snakes and other animals. Later, we formed the Malabar Nature Conservation Club, through which we began to organise biodiversity awareness camps in schools and colleges. This helped the next generation become nature lovers and educators. We also started nature trails and jungle safaris to boost tourism. If any individual wants to go on a nature trail in Amboli, they have to be accompanied by a local resident so that they don’t indulge in malpractices such as smuggling or disturbing the ecology.

A cicada emerging out of its shell.
A cicada emerging out of its shell. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
A Malabar gliding frog in Amboli.
A Malabar gliding frog in Amboli. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

“Today, around 100 families in Amboli village are dependent on tourism. They manage lodges, restaurants, or work as local guides. To date, 49 species of snakes and reptiles and 26 species of amphibians have been recorded from Amboli.”

ALSO READ: The Grey Forest in the Western Ghats

Dozens of Amboli bush froglets encased in their transparent “bubble eggs”.
Dozens of Amboli bush froglets encased in their transparent “bubble eggs”. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Sharing his experience in Amboli, Dr Abhishek Satam, a biologist from Mumbai, said: “As a biologist and wildlife enthusiast, I have been visiting the Amboli forest for over five years. Amboli is like a treasure. Every time a person goes on a trail here, he/she can spot new species and unique behaviour like mating, egg laying, and hunting, to name a few. Local guides are valuable as they have much more knowledge. Amboli never disappoints.”