Western Ghats

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Western Ghats
Western Ghats Gobi.jpg
Western Ghats as seen from Gobichettipalayam, Tamil Nadu
Highest point
Peak Anamudi (Eravikulam National Park)
Elevation 2,695 m (8,842 ft)
Coordinates 10°10′N 77°04′E / 10.167°N 77.067°E / 10.167; 77.067Coordinates: 10°10′N 77°04′E / 10.167°N 77.067°E / 10.167; 77.067
Length 1,600 km (990 mi) N–S
Width 100 km (62 mi) E–W
Area 160,000 km2 (62,000 sq mi)
The Western Ghats lie roughly parallel
to the west coast of India
Country India
Regions Western India and Southern India
Biome Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests
Age of rock Cenozoic
Type of rock Basalt and Laterite
Official name Natural Properties - Western Ghats (India)
Type Natural
Criteria ix, x
Designated 2012 (36th session)
Reference no. 1342
State Party India
Region Indian subcontinent

The Western Ghats or Sahyadri is a mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, located entirely in India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the eight "hottest hotspots" of biological diversity in the world.[1][2] It is sometimes called the Great Escarpment of India.[3] The range runs north to south along the western edge of the Deccan Plateau, and separates the plateau from a narrow coastal plain, called Konkan, along the Arabian Sea. A total of thirty nine properties including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests were designated as world heritage sites - twenty in Kerala, ten in Karnataka, five in Tamil Nadu and four in Maharashtra.[4][5]

The range starts near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, south of the Tapti river, and runs approximately 1,600 km (990 mi) through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu ending at Kanyakumari, at the southern tip of India. These hills cover 160,000 km2 (62,000 sq mi) and form the catchment area for complex riverine drainage systems that drain almost 40% of India. The Western Ghats block southwest monsoon winds from reaching the Deccan Plateau.[6] The average elevation is around 1,200 m (3,900 ft).[7]

The area is one of the world's ten "Hottest biodiversity hotspots" and has over 7,402 species of flowering plants,1814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6000 insects species and 290 freshwater fish species; it is likely that many undiscovered species live in the Western Ghats. At least 325 globally threatened species occur in the Western Ghats.[8][9][10]


The Western Ghats are the mountainous faulted and eroded edge of the Deccan Plateau. Geologic evidence indicates that they were formed during the break-up of the supercontinent of Gondwana some 150 million years ago. Geophysical evidence indicates that the west coast of India came into being somewhere around 100 to 80 mya after it broke away from Madagascar. After the break-up, the western coast of India would have appeared as an abrupt cliff some 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in elevation.[11] Basalt is the predominant rock found in the hills reaching a thickness of 3 km (2 mi). Other rock types found are charnockites, granite gneiss, khondalites, leptynites, metamorphic gneisses with detached occurrences of crystalline limestone, iron ore, dolerites and anorthosites. Residual laterite and bauxite ores are also found in the southern hills.

Mountain ranges[edit]

Topography- Western Ghats (southern part)

The Western Ghats extend from the Satpura Range in the north, go south past Maharashtra, Goa, through Karnataka and into Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Major gaps in the range are the Goa Gap, between the Maharashtra and Karnataka sections, and the Palghat Gap on the Tamil Nadu and Kerala border between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. The mountains intercept the rain-bearing westerly monsoon winds, and are consequently an area of high rainfall, particularly on their western side. The dense forests also contribute to the precipitation of the area by acting as a substrate for condensation of moist rising orographic winds from the sea, and releasing much of the moisture back into the air via transpiration, allowing it to later condense and fall again as rain.

The northern portion of the narrow coastal plain between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea is known as the Konkan Coast or simply Konkan, the central portion is called Kanara and the southern portion is called Malabar region or the Malabar Coast. The foothill region east of the Ghats in Maharashtra is known as Desh, while the eastern foothills of the central Karnataka state is known as Malenadu.[12] The largest city within the mountains is the city of Pune (Poona), in the Desh region on the eastern edge of the range. The Biligirirangan Hills lie at the confluence of the Western and Eastern Ghats.


The major hill range starting from the north is the Sahyadhri (the benevolent mountains) range. This range is home to many hill stations, including Matheran, Lonavala-Khandala, Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Amboli Ghat, Kudremukh and Kodagu. The range is known as Sahyadri in Maharashtra and Karnataka and as Sahya Parvatam in Kerala.


The Nilgiri mountains are in Northwestern Tamil Nadu and are home to the town of Ooty. The Biligiriranga Hills southeast of Mysore in Karnataka, meet the Shevaroys and Tirumala range farther east, linking the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats.

Anamala Hills[edit]

South of the Palghat Gap are the Anamala Hills, located in western Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There are smaller ranges further south, including the Cardamom Hills, then Aryankavu pass, Aralvaimozhi pass near Kanyakumari. In the southern part of the range is Anamudi peak 2,695 metres (8,842 ft) in Kerala the highest peak in Western Ghats. Chembra Peak 2,100 metres (6,890 ft), Banasura Peak 2,073 metres (6,801 ft), Vellarimala 2,200 metres (7,218 ft) and Agasthya mala 1,868 metres (6,129 ft) are also in Kerala. Doddabetta in the Nilgiri Hills is 2,637 metres (8,652 ft). Mullayanagiri is the highest peak in Karnataka 1,950 metres (6,398 ft). The Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is home to many tea and coffee plantations.


A view of Naikolli Mala, a satellite peak of Anamudi, the highest peak of the Western Ghats 2,695 metres (8,842 ft) from Eravikulam National Park, Kerala
Nilgiris, a part of Western Ghats at Masinangudi, Tamil Nadu
Shola Grasslands and forests in the Kudremukh National Park, Karnataka
As seen from Kodachadri, Karnataka
The dense vegetation in the Watchumaram region towards Valparai, Tamil Nadu

Following is a list of some of the highest peaks of the Western Ghats:

Rank Name Elevation (m) Location
01. Anaimudi 2695 Eravikulam National Park, Kerala
02. Mannamalai 2659 Idukki, Kerala
03. Meesapulimala 2640 Idukki, Kerala
04. Doddabetta 2637 Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu
05. Kolaribetta 2629 Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu
06. Mukurthi 2554 Mukurthi National Park, Tamil Nadu
07. Vandaravu 2553 Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu
08. Kattumala 2552 [13] Eravikulam National Park, Kerala
09. Anginda peak 2383 Silent Valley National Park, Kerala
10. Vavulmala 2339 [14] Vellarimala, Kerala
11. Kodaikanal 2133 Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
12. Chembra Peak 2100 Wayanad, Kerala
13. Elivai Mala 2088 [15] Palakkad, Kerala
14. Banasura Peak 2073 Wayanad, Kerala
15. Kottamala 2019 Periyar National Park, Kerala
16. Mullayanagiri 1930 Chikmagalur, Karnataka
17. Devarmala 1923 Achenkovil, Kerala
18. Baba Budangiri 1895 Chikmagalur, Karnataka
19. Kudremukh 1894 Chikmagalur, Karnataka
20. Agasthyamala 1868 Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
21. Biligiriranga Hills 1800 Chamarajanagar, Karnataka
22. Velliangiri Mountains 1778[16] Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
23. Tadiandamol 1748 Kodagu, Karnataka
24. Kumara Parvata 1712 Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka
25. Pushpagiri 1712 Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka
26. Merthi Gudda 1676 Hornadu, Karnataka
27. Kalsubai 1648 Ahmednagar, Maharashtra
28. Brahmagiri 1608 Kodagu, Karnataka
29. Kote Betta 1620 Kodagu, Karnataka
30. Salher 1567 Nashik, Maharashtra
31. Madikeri 1525 Kodagu, Karnataka
32. Dhodap 1472 Nashik, Maharashtra
33. Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta 1450 Chamarajanagar, Karnataka
34. Taramati 1431 Ahmednagar, Maharashtra
35. Torna Fort 1405 Pune, Maharashtra
36. Purandar fort 1387 Pune, Maharashtra
37. Raigad fort 1346 Raigad, Maharashtra
38. Kodachadri 1343 Shimoga, Karnataka
39. Paitalmala 1343 Kudiyanmala, Kerala

Water bodies[edit]

View from Varandha Pass showing the numerous waterfalls
Jog Falls in Karnataka, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in India

The Western Ghats have several manmade lakes and reservoirs. The well known lakes are the Ooty (2500 m altitude, 34.0 ha) in Nilgiris, and the Kodaikanal (2285 m, 26 ha) and the Berijam in the Palani Hills. The Pookode lake of Wayanad in Kerala at Lakkadi is a beautiful scenic one with boating and garden arrangements. Most of the bigger lakes are situated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Two smaller lakes, Devikulam (6.0 ha) and Letchmi (2.0 ha) are in the Munnar range.

The majority of streams draining the Western Ghats that join the rivers Krishna and Kaveri carry water during monsoon months only and have been dammed for hydroelectric and irrigation purposes. The major reservoirs are: Lonavala and Walwahn in Maharashtra; V.V. Sagar, K.R. Sagar, Bhadra, Lingamakki in Karnataka; Mettur, Upper Bhavani, Lower Bhavani, Mukurthi, Parson's Valley, Porthumund, Avalanche, Emerald, Pykara, Sandynulla, Karaiyar, Servalar, Kodaiyar, Gadananathi River, Manimuthar and Glenmorgan in Tamil Nadu; and Kundallay and Maddupatty in Kerala. Of these the Lonavla, Walwahn, Upper Bhavani, Mukurthi, Parson's Valley, Porthumund, Avalanche, Emerald, Pykara, Sandynulla, Glenmorgan, Kundally and Madupatty are important for their commercial and sport fisheries for rainbow trout (introduced), mahseer (native) and common carp (introduced).[17]

The Western Ghats form one of the four watersheds of India, feeding the perennial rivers of India. Important rivers include the Godavari,[18]Tungabhadra, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Kaveri. These rivers flow to the east and drain out into the Bay of Bengal. The west flowing rivers, that drain into the Arabian Sea and the Laccadive Sea, are fast-moving, owing to the short distance travelled and steeper gradient. Important rivers include the Periyar, Bharathappuzha, Netravati, Sharavathi, Mandovi and Zuari. Many of these rivers feed the backwaters of Kerala and Maharashtra. Rivers that flow eastwards of the Ghats drain into the Bay of Bengal. These are comparatively slower moving and eventually merge into larger rivers such as the Kaveri and Krishna. The larger tributaries include the Tunga River, Bhadra river, Bhima River, Malaprabha River, Ghataprabha River, Hemavathi river, Kabini River. In addition there are several smaller rivers such as the Chittar River, Gadananathi River, Manimuthar River, Kallayi River, Kundali River and the Pachaiyar River.

Fast running rivers and steep slopes have provided sites for many large hydro-electric projects. There are about 50 major dams along the length of the Western Ghats with the earliest project up in 1900 near Khopoli in Maharashtra.[19] Most notable of these projects are the Koyna Hydroelectric Project in Maharashtra, the Parambikulam Dam in Kerala, and the Linganmakki Dam in Karnataka.[12] The reservoir behind the Koyna Dam, the Shivajisagar Lake, has a length of 50 km (31 mi) and depth of 80 m (262 ft).[20] It is the largest hydroelectric project in Maharashtra, generating 1,920 MW of electric power.[21] Another major hydro electric project is Idukki dam in Kerala.

During the monsoon season, numerous streams fed by incessant rain drain off the mountain sides leading to numerous and often spectacular waterfalls. Among the most well known is the Jog Falls, Kunchikal Falls, Dudhsagar Falls, Sivasamudram Falls, and Unchalli Falls. The Jog Falls is the highest natural plunge waterfall in South Asia and is listed among the 1001 natural wonders of the world.[22] Talakaveri wildlife sanctuary is a critical watershed and the source of the river Kaveri. This region has dense evergreen and semi-evergreen vegetation, with shola-grassland in areas of higher elevation. The steep terrain of the area has resulted in scenic waterfalls along its many mountain streams. Sharavathi and Someshvara Wildlife sanctuaries in Shimoga district are the source of the Tungabhadra River system. The Netravathi river has also its origin at Western Ghats of India flowing westwards to join Arabian sea at Mangalore.



Annual rainfall along the Western Ghat region

Climate in the Western Ghats varies with altitudinal gradation and distance from the equator. The climate is humid and tropical in the lower reaches tempered by the proximity to the sea. Elevations of 1,500 m (4,921 ft) and above in the north and 2,000 m (6,562 ft) and above in the south have a more temperate climate. Average annual temperature is around 15 °C (60 °F). In some parts frost is common, and temperatures touch the freezing point during the winter months. Mean temperature range from 20 °C (68 °F) in the south to 24 °C (75 °F) in the north. It has also been observed that the coldest periods in the South Western Ghats coincide with the wettest.[23]

During the monsoon season between June and September, the unbroken Western Ghats chain acts as a barrier to the moisture laden clouds. The heavy, eastward-moving rain-bearing clouds are forced to rise and in the process deposit most of their rain on the windward side. Rainfall in this region averages 3,000–4,000 mm (120–160 in) with localised extremes touching 9,000 mm (350 in). The eastern region of the Western Ghats which lie in the rain shadow, receive far less rainfall averaging about 1,000 mm (40 in) bringing the average rainfall figure to 2,500 mm (150 in). Data from rainfall figures reveal that there is no relationship between the total amount of rain received and the spread of the area. Some areas to the north in Maharashtra while receiving heavier rainfall are followed by long dry spells, while regions closer to the equator receiving less annual rainfall, have rain spells lasting almost the entire year.[23]


Agastiar mountain's shadow falling on Poovankurichi lake, Tirunelveli,Tamil Nadu

The Western Ghats are home to four tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregions – the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, North Western Ghats montane rain forests, South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, and South Western Ghats montane rain forests. The northern portion of the range is generally drier than the southern portion, and at lower elevations makes up the North Western Ghats moist deciduous forests ecoregion, with mostly deciduous forests made up predominantly of teak. Above 1,000 meters elevation are the cooler and wetter North Western Ghats montane rain forests, whose evergreen forests are characterised by trees of family Lauraceae.

The evergreen Wayanad forests of Kerala mark the transition zone between the northern and southern ecologic regions of the Western Ghats. The southern ecologic regions are generally wetter and more species-rich. At lower elevations are the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests, with Cullenia the characteristic tree genus, accompanied by teak, dipterocarps, and other trees. The moist forests transition to the drier South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests, which lie in its rain shadow to the east. Above 1,000 meters are the South Western Ghats montane rain forests, also cooler and wetter than the surrounding lowland forests, and dominated by evergreen trees, although some montane grasslands and stunted forests can be found at the highest elevations. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests are the most species-rich ecologic region in peninsular India; eighty percent of the flowering plant species of the entire Western Ghats range are found in this ecologic region.

Biodiversity protection[edit]

Historically the Western Ghats were well-covered in dense forests that provided wild foods and natural habitats for native tribal people. Its inaccessibility made it difficult for people from the plains to cultivate the land and build settlements. After the arrival of the British in the area, large swathes of territory were cleared for agricultural plantations and timber. The forest in the Western Ghats has been severely fragmented due to human activities, especially clear felling for tea, coffee, and teak plantations during 1860 to 1950. Species that are rare, endemic and habitat specialists are more adversely affected and tend to be lost faster than other species. Complex and species rich habitats like the tropical rainforest are much more adversely affected than other habitats.[24]

The area is ecologically sensitive to development and was declared an ecological hotspot in 1988 through the efforts of ecologist Norman Myers. Though this area covers barely five percent of India's land, 27% of all species of higher plants in India (4,000 of 15,000 species) are found here. Almost 1,800 of these are endemic to the region. The range is home to at least 84 amphibian species, 16 bird species, seven mammals, and 1,600 flowering plants which are not found elsewhere in the world. The Government of India established many protected areas including 2 biosphere reserves, 13 National parks to restrict human access, several wildlife sanctuaries to protect specific endangered species and many Reserve Forests, which are all managed by the forest departments of their respective state to preserve some of the ecoregions still undeveloped. Many National Parks were initially Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve comprising 5500 km2 of the evergreen forests of Nagarahole, deciduous forests of Bandipur National Park and Nugu in Karnataka and adjoining regions of Wayanad, Mudumalai National Park and Mukurthi National Park in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu forms the largest contiguous protected area in the Western Ghats.[25] The Western Ghats is home to numerous serene hill stations like Munnar, Ponmudi and Waynad. The Silent Valley National Park in Kerala is among the last tracts of virgin tropical evergreen forest in India.[26][27] The Expert Appraisal Committee appointed by Union Government also said that the project should not be taken up.[28] In August 2011, the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) and, assigned three levels of Ecological Sensitivity to its different regions.[29]

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, was a committee appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to assess the biodiversity and environmental issues of the Western Ghats spread across six states: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The panel, which was set up on 14 March 2010, submitted its report to the government on 31 August 2011.[30] Gadgil Committee and its successor Kasturirangan Committee recommended suggestions to protect the Western Ghats. However, both of them ran into controversy and were not implemented. Gadgil report was criticized as being too environment-friendly and not in tune with the ground realities. The Kasturirangan Committee tried to balance development and environment, but was labelled as being anti-environmental.[31][32][33]

UNESCO World Heritage Site[edit]

In 2006, India applied to the UNESCO MAB for the Western Ghats to be listed as a protected World Heritage Site.[34] In 2012, the following places are declared as World Heritage Sites:[35][36]


The Western Ghats are home to thousands of animal species including at least 325 globally threatened species.[37]


There are at least 139 mammal species. Of the 16 endemic mammals, 13 are threatened and amongst the 32 threatened species include the critically endangered Malabar large-spotted civet, the endangered lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri tahr, Bengal tiger and Indian elephants, the vulnerable Indian leopard, Nilgiri langur and gaur.[38][39][40]

These hill ranges serve as important wildlife corridors and forms an important part of Project Elephant and Project Tiger reserves. The largest population of tigers outside the Sundarbans is in the Western ghats where there are seven populations with an estimated population size of 336 to 487 individuals occupying 21,435 km2 (8,276 sq mi) forest in three major landscape units spread across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.[41] The Western ghats eco-region has the largest Indian elephant population in the wild with an estimated 11,000 individuals across eight distinct populations.[42][43] The endemic Nilgiri tahr which was on the brink of extinction has recovered and has an estimated 3,122 individuals in the wild.[44] The Critically Endangered endemic Malabar large-spotted civet is estimated to number fewer than 250 mature individuals, with no sub-population greater than 50 individuals.[45] About 3500 lion-tailed macaques live scattered over several areas in the Western Ghats.[46]


The major population of snake family Uropeltidae of the reptile class is restricted to the region.[47] The region has significant population of vulnerable Mugger crocodiles.[48]


The amphibians of the Western Ghats are diverse and unique, with more than 80% of the 179 amphibian species being endemic to the rainforests of the mountains.[49] The endangered purple frog was discovered in 2003.[50] Four new species of frogs belonging to the genera Rhacophorus, Polypedates, Philautus and Bufo were described from the Western Ghats in 2005.[51] The region is also home to many caecilian species.


As of 2004, 288 freshwater fish species are listed for the Western Ghats, including 35 also known from brackish or marine water.[10] Several new species have been described from the region since then (e.g., Dario urops, Horabagrus melanosoma and S. sharavathiensis),[52][53][54] meaning that the figure is higher today. There are 118 endemic species,[10] including 12 genera entirely restricted to the Western Ghats (Betadevario, Dayella, Horabagrus, Horalabiosa, Hypselobarbus, Indoreonectes, Lepidopygopsis, Longischistura, Mesonoemacheilus, Parapsilorhynchus, Rohtee and Travancoria).[55]

There is a higher fish richness in the southern part of the Western Ghats than in the northern,[55] and the highest is in the Chalakudy River, which alone holds 98 species.[56] Other rivers with high species numbers include the Periyar, Bharatapuzha, Pamba and Chaliyar, as well as upstream tributaries of the Kaveri, Pambar, Bhavani and Krishna rivers.[55] The most species rich families are the Cyprinids (72 species), hillstream loaches (34 species; including stone loaches, now regarded a separate family), Bagrid catfishes (19 species) and Sisorid catfishes (12 species).[10][55][56] The region is home to several brilliantly colored ornamental fishes like Denison's (or red line torpedo) barb,[57] several species of Dawkinsia barbs, zebra loach, Horabagrus catfish, dwarf pufferfish and dwarf Malabar pufferfish.[58] The rivers are also home to Osteobrama bakeri, and larger species such as the Malabar snakehead and Malabar mahseer.[59][60] According to the IUCN, 97 freshwater fish species from the Western Ghats were considered threatened in 2011, including 12 critically endangered, 54 endangered and 31 vulnerable.[55] All but one (Tor khudree) of these are endemic to the Western Ghats. An additional 26 species from the region are considered data deficient (their status is unclear at present). The primary threats are from habitat loss, but also from overexploitation and introduced species.[55]


There are at least 508 bird species. Most of Karnataka's five hundred species of birds are from the Western Ghats region.[61][62] There are at least 16 species of birds endemic to the Western Ghats including the endangered rufous-breasted laughingthrush, the vulnerable Nilgiri wood-pigeon, white-bellied shortwing and broad-tailed grassbird, the near threatened grey-breasted laughingthrush, black-and-rufous flycatcher, Nilgiri flycatcher, and Nilgiri pipit, and the least concern Malabar (blue-winged) parakeet, Malabar grey hornbill, white-bellied treepie, grey-headed bulbul, rufous babbler, Wynaad laughingthrush, white-bellied blue-flycatcher and the crimson-backed sunbird.[63]


There are roughly 6,000 insect species.[64] Of 334 Western Ghats butterfly species, 316 species have been reported from the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.[65] The Western Ghats is home to 174 species of odonates (107 dragonflies and 67 damselflies), including 69 endemics.[55] Most of the endemic odonate are closely associated with rivers and streams, while the non-endemics typically are generalists.[55]


Seasonal rainfall patterns of the Western Ghats necessitate a period of dormancy for its land snails, resulting in their high abundance and diversity including at least 258 species of gastropods from 57 genera and 24 families.[66] A total of 77 species of freshwater molluscs (52 gastropods and 25 bivalves) have been recorded from the Western Ghats, but the actual number is likely higher.[55] This include 28 endemics. Among the threatened freshwater molluscs are the mussels Pseudomulleria dalyi, which is a Gondwanan relict, and the snail Cremnoconchus, which is restricted to the spray zone of waterfalls.[55] According to the IUCN, 4 species of freshwater molluscs are considered endangered and 3 are vulnerable. An additional 19 species are considered data deficient.[55]


Of the 7,402 species of flowering plants occur in the Western Ghats, 5,588 species are native or indigenous and 376 are exotics naturalized and 1,438 species are cultivated or planted as ornamentals. Among the indigenous species, 2,253 species are endemic to India and of them, 1,273 species are exclusively confined to the Western Ghats. Apart from 593 confirmed subspecies and varieties; 66 species, 5 subspecies and 14 varieties of doubtful occurrence are also reported and therefore amounting 8,080 taxa of flowering plants.[67]

See also[edit]


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