The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, the largest and well preserved sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, lies in the Western Ghats south of the Palghat Gap, better known as Anaimalais (Mountain of Elephants).
With an area of 958 sq.KM, it is rich in flora and fauna.This protected area constitutes the most important watershed for the agricultural economy and power supply. Major reservoirs like Parambikulam, Aliyar, Thirumurthi, Upper Aliyar, Kadambarai, Sholayar and Amaravathi are fed by the perennial rivers which originate from the Sanctuary.
The park is named after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who visited the park on October 7, 1961. It is often called "Topslip", a village in the northeast corner of the park which is the main visitor center. This name is derived from the local 19th century practice of sliding Teak timber logs down the hills from here.
By the mid 1800s, large tracts of Valparai Plateau in the Anamalais were under intense tea or coffee plantations after deforestation of the natural forests. By 1866 two-thirds of the plantations were owned by Europeans and the remaining by Indians from coastal towns. Since most native inhabitants either refused to work or were inefficient workers, labour for plantations was brought from the plains of Tamil Nadu to clear forests and grow coffee.
Some parts of the forest however were reserved for timber including large areas around Top Slip. This part of the Western Ghats, under the Bombay Presidency were exploited extensively for teak which was supplied to the Bombay Dockyard for shipbuilding and later for railroad ties.
In 1855, this area came under sustainable forest management for teak plantations by the pioneering efforts Douglas Hamilton and Dr. H. F. Cleghorn of the new Tamil Nadu Forest Department. In the early 1900s, protection of the Karian Sholas was also ensured (Johnsingh 2006a).
The area was notified as Anaimalai Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974. of its unique habitats at 3 places - Karian Shola, Grass hills, Manjampatti Valley were notified as a National Park in 1989. The 108 square kilometres (42sqmi) National Park is the core area of the 958 square kilometres (370sqmi) Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary.IGWS was declared a Project Tiger tiger reserve in 2008.
The Park and the Sanctuary is under consideration by UNESCO as part of The Western Ghats World Heritage site. The Sanctuary and the Palni Hills in Dindigul District form the Anaimalai Conservation Area.
Threatened species of mammals in the sanctuary include:
- the endangered Bengal tiger, Indian elephant, Dhole (Asiatic wild dog), Nilgiri tahr and Lion-tailed macaque,
- the vulnerable Brown Mongoose, Gaur, Malabar Spiny Dormouse, Nilgiri langur, Rusty-spotted cat, Sambar Deer, Sloth bear and Smooth-coated Otter,
- the near threatened Indian Giant Squirrel, Indian Leopard and Indian Pangolin.
Animals of least concern here include: Golden jackal, Leopard cat, Jungle cat, Spotted deer, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Wild Boar, Common langur, Bonnet macaque, Asian Palm Civet, Small Indian Civet, Indian Gray Mongoose, Striped-necked Mongoose, Ruddy Mongoose, Grey Slender Loris, Indian Giant Squirrel, Indian Crested Porcupine, Indian Pangolin, Indian porcupine and Three-striped Palm Squirrel.
Over 250 species of birds have been identified in the Park . Some of the most important groups include, cormorants, ducks, teal, darter, partridge, quail, jungle fowl, spurfowl, Indian peafowl, parakeets, hornbills, barbets, drongos, orioles, shrikes, warblers, Old World flycatchers, woodpeckers, chloropsis, trogons, kingfishers, storks, egrets, fish eagle, hawk eagles, harriers, falcons, kites, owls and nightjars. It is also home to the near threatened Great Indian Hornbill.It is home to 15 of 16 species of birds endemic to the Western Ghats.
Reptiles include Toads, Spotted Leaping Frog and Leith's Leaping Frog, Black Torrent Frogs, tree frogs, Pythons, Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, Grass Snakes, Forest Cane Turtles, Travancore Tortoises, Flapshell Turtless, Star Tortoises, Flying lizards, Chameleons and Forest Lizards.
315 species of butterflies belonging to five families have been identified in the Anaimalai Hills. 44 are endemic to the Western Ghats.
The IGWLS is managed by the Wildlife Warden (Wildlife Warden Office, 178 Meenkarai Road, Pollachi, Ph: 04259-225356) and falls within the administrative control of the Coimbatore Forest Circle headed by the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore. Phone Number of Reception Office for Visitor Information is Ph: 04259-238360
Travel by road from Coimbatore to Pollachi (40km) to the Wildlife Warden's Office for visitor permit and then by road to Top Slip (35km), or to Udumalpet (40km - Amaravathi and Udumalpet range), or to Vaalparai (65km - Vaalparai and Manamboly range)
The ideal months to visit the Park are May to January. Entry time is between 6 am and 6 pm. The Park has a large tourist complex at Top Slip that houses many cottages, rooms, and dormitories for visitors. Visitors can get around the park by trekking and a safari van.
The Parambikulam Wildlife sanctuary Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary is another attraction which also offers similar Wildlife safari experiences and has to be traveled via Topslip from Pollachi or Anamalai. The Kerala Border Checkpost personnel only allow Batches of 18 People into the Border to accommodate one batch of Safari Tour. Hence one has to wait for other Vehicles & Tourists to join to make up the number. This may not apply if the visitors plan to stay in the Parambikulam Sanctuary.