Tropical forests, which play critical roles in global biogeochemical cycles, radiation budgets and biodiversity, have undergone rapid changes in land cover in the last few decades. This study examines the complex process of land cover change in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats, India, specifically investigating the effects of conservation measures within the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary. Current vegetation patterns were mapped using an IRS P6 LISS III image and this was used together with Landsat MSS data from 1973 to map land cover transitions. Two major and divergent trends were observed. A dominant degradational trend can be attributed to agricultural expansion and infrastructure development while a successional trend, resulting from protection of the area, showed the resilience of the system after prolonged disturbances. The sanctuary appears susceptible to continuing disturbances under the current management regime but at lower rates than in surrounding unprotected areas. The study demonstrates that remotely sensed land cover assessments can have important contributions to monitoring land management strategies, understanding processes underpinning land use changes and helping to inform future conservation strategies.