The State of Karnataka has a rich heritage of flora and fauna. The hill chain of Western Ghats is the only part of the State to retain some semblance of its natural biological heritage. This last refuge of the native fauna is subjected to rapid decimation with the coining up of several hydro-electric and irrigation projects, mining, the accelerated pace of forest exploitation and the increasing demand of land for plantation and crop husbandry. The area under forests in Karnataka today amounts to 38.72 lakh hectares i.e. 20 per cent of the total land area of the State. With the notable exception of Bonnet Macaque, which is under widespread religious protection throughout the State, the larger wild mammals are almost confined to the forest areas. The wildlife bearing forest areas of Karnataka are divided into six regions viz, Coastal region, crestline of the Western Ghats, Malnad, Old Mysore Plateau, Kollegal hills and the Maidan. The natural distribution of animals is largely determined by vegetation.
Region-I – Coastal Region : The district of Uttara Kannada and parts of Belgaum constitute the northern-most sector of the hill tracts of Karnataka. These hilly tracts have vegetation ranging from evergreen to dry deciduous types. Due to Kalinadi hydro-electric project and a great deal of Iron and Manganese ore mining, the habitat is highly fragmented and the forest cover is greatly disturbed. In this region, as per observed data, the gaur are scattered, sambar are much more widely distributed. Wild pig is most abundant and spotted deer is seen in majority of areas. Elephants are found scattered over a wide region. The Carnivores-tiger, panther and wild dog occur in low populations. This region was extremely rich in wild life in the past especially tiger and gaur.
Region II – Crestline of Western Ghats: This region lies south of Uttar Kannada. There is a narrow belt of forest following this crestline of Ghats. The vegetation ranges from evergreen to moist deciduous. Most of the major animals occur in this region but their population on the whole is very poor. Only a few isolated herds of elephants are found here. The gaur and sambar are frequently seen while the spotted deer occurs sporadically. Barking deer and sloth bear are also reported to be present. Wild pig is omnipresent. The Canivores – tiger, panther and wild dog are present but their occurrence rating is very low. This region is a poor habitat for most large herbivores and consequently for carnivores.
Region III – Malnad : This is characterised by dry and moist deciduous vegetation. The area is marked by conspicuous hills like the Bababudangiri range. This region has one of the best wildlife concentrations only second to Mysore plateau in the State, harbouring populations of elephants, gaur, sambar, spotted deer, wild pig etc. The anthropogenic pressures over this area are much less and hence the wildlife is somewhat less molested. The presence of perennial rivers, reservoirs and plenty of bamboos, grass and other fodder species with a moderate rainfall makes this region an ideal habitat for elephants.
Region IV – Mysore plateau : The western edge of Mysore Plateau, flanked on three sides by the southern-most ranges of the Sahyadris, Nilgiris and eastern spur of hills towards the Biligirirangan Hills, is an undulating plain and is covered by moist and dry deciduous forests. This area has the richest wildlife concentrations in South India, harbouring large herds of elephants, spotted deer, wild pig.^wild dog, sloth bear, gaur, sambar and occassionally tiger and cats.
Region V : Kollegal Hills : This hilly area is an eastern spur of the Western Ghats. Apart from the moist deciduous or semi-evergreen forests on these hills, the rest of the region is covered by dry deciduous forest mostly degraded into scrub. Elephant, sambar, spotted deer and wild pig occur throughout this region. The wild dogs have fairly extensive distribution, though tiger, gaur and panther are much more restricted. Almost all the wild life species occur in this region in small numbers except elephants.
Region VI – Maidan : There is very little forest in the Maidan areas on the Deccan Plateau and whatever is left is in highly degraded form. Ranebennur is notable for the occurrence of good herds of black bucks. Wolves are becoming rare but have been reported from several places in this plains.