Until the early 19th century, Asiatic lions roamed an immense area of South and Southwest Asia, as far east as Greece and as far west as modern Bangladesh. As humanity has lived in this region for millennia, people coexisted with lions for thousands of years, but in the last few centuries, the growth of the human population has come at the cost of the lions’ habitat. Like the Bengal Tiger and the Asiatic Cheetah, lions saw a dramatic decline in population as their preferred habitat of grasslands and semi-forested areas became overrun with humans. Beyond just habitat reduction, though, once guns arrived and became widespread, from 1800-1860, nearly all the lions remaining outside Gujarat were hunted and killed. The last Asiatic lions in India outside of Gir forest were killed in 1886 at Rewah, and the last wild lion sighted the world outside Gir was in Iran in 1941.
In 1901, Lord Curzon was offered to be taken lion hunting while visiting Junagadh. Noting that these were the only lions left in Asia, he declined, and reportedly suggested to the Nawab of Junagadh that it would be better to conserve the lion population than to hunt it. The Nawab began what was probably the first institutional wildlife conservation effort in India and one of the earliest in the world (though various human societies have been operating in ways that conserve wildlife throughout the ages), banning all lion hunting entirely. From a population reported to be as low as 20 in 1913 (considered exaggerated by some wildlife experts, noting that the first official census in the 1930s found over 200 lions), the lions have rebounded to now number 359 in the most recent census of 2005. This is due almost entirely to the Nawab’s conservation efforts, and the Indian Government’s post-independence ban on lion killing in 1955.
The Sanctuary hardly has 192.31 sq. km area, but has one of the most diverse floral compositions and therefore a potential source of remedies of many ailments, and therefore deserves to be safeguarded. The terrain of Barda is almost hilly and undulating with an altitude ranging from 79.2 m to 617.8 m. above sea level. At places, there are gentle slopes with exposed rocks. The two main ephemeral rivers are Bileshvary and Joghri. Khambala and Fodara are important dams in the Sanctuary.
The area supports about 750 ‘maldhari’ families (4000 people) in 68 ‘nesses’. The agriculture fields and wasteland, where acute water scarcity is experienced during the summer months, surround the forest area. However, this green patch of forest, provides ecological security and environmental stability, since it improves the water regime of the area by recharging the ground water and forming catchment for the minor dams in the Sanctuary. Located barely at distance of 15 km from the Arabian Sea, the forest is standing as the guard against the salinity ingress in the region. The forest is endowed with very rich floral composition and it was also a home of Asiatic lion in not a distant past. Kileshwar, a temple and camping site developed by ‘Jamsaheb’ of Jamnagar, is a beautiful site in the heart of the forest. Amongst the mammals ratel, leopard and wolf are threatened. Amongst the reptiles found here, crocodile and chameleon are rare and endangered. Of the four common venomous snakes, three are found here. The avifaunal species also displays high diversity. At least two species of birds, which were found in the Sanctuary, are rare/ endangered, to name a few: Spotted Eagle and Crested Hawk-Eagle.
Apart from this, the Sanctuary exhibits great variety of invertebrate species including variety of butterflies. Lion, Chinkara, Sambar and Spotted Deer found in the recent past, are now exterminated from Barda. Although the area of Sanctuary is small, it has different types of forests.
India’s first Marine Wildlife Sanctuary and first Marine National Park were created here in the Gulf of Kutch in 1980 and 1982, respectively. This was a leap forward in societal and governmental consciousness about interacting with the natural world. The sanctuary covers 458 sq km, of which the park covers 163 sq km. It is an archipelago of 42 tropical islands along the northern coast of Jamnagar district and the southern coast of Kutch.
The sanctuary lies in the intertidal zone, between the lowest and highest tide levels, the area that lies below water in high tide, and is exposed during low tide. This gives us a chance to observe the richest diversity of marine habitats in the country, including saline grasslands, marshy areas, rocky shores, mudflats, creeks, estuaries, sandy strands, coral reefs, and mangroves. The latter two are an essential part of not only the local environment, but also the stability and diversity of the planet; they are unfortunately severely degraded in many parts of the world. During the Tsunami in 2004, the few areas that were still protected and had mangrove forests intact made it dramatically apparent how important this was, in comparison to the areas that were open and vulnerable.
Some of the finest coral reef fringe islands are found at Pirotan, Narala, Ajad and Positara, often a surprise even to Gujaratis. There are 52 coral species, 42 of them hard and 10 of them soft. Coral is made of millions of colorful little animals called polyps, bound together by algae and other plants, in a variety of intriguing shapes and formations. The polyps breath out carbon dioxide, while the binding plants release oxygen, with a high nutrient turnover equivalent to a tropical rainforest. The rock-like formations provide shelter and safe breeding grounds for various tiny marine species in hiding from larger predators.
There are 7 species of mangroves here, performing vital functions such as maintaining the balance between salt and fresh water systems, and protecting the coast from erosion. The mangrove trees can be identified by their peculiar roots, which reach up through the mud and out of the water.
The mangroves are breeding grounds for colonies of near-threatened species of birds such as Painted Stork, Darter and Black-necked Ibis. You will find these and other species of birds packed in the branches, ready to feed on the fish and invertebrate that are attracted to the protein-rich leaf-litters of the swamp forest. Other species are waders, such as Avocets and Phalaropes, usually found in shallow waters. A third category can be seen over the open waters, swooping down to catch fish, birds such as Gulls, Terns, Kingfishers, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Palla’s Fish Eagle. There are about 80 recorded species of birds on these islands. Every day at low tide it is a thrill to watch the overwhelming numbers of coastal birds that assemble on the banks to feed on the beached marine life. In winter they are joined by the migratory birds, which can also be seen flying in V-formations over the Gulf of Kutch in flocks of several thousands.
At low tide wading in the shallow waters you will also meet
- giant sea anemone, animals that look like flowers, and harbor shrimp in its folds, the two life forms exchanging food for protection in a heartwarming symbiosis,
- more than 40 species of sponges, variously colored,
- starfish, some of whom have a disconcerting ability to drop their arms when handled,
- sea cucumber, a creature that ejects its body parts to distract a predator,
- octopus that changes color for camouflage,
- puffer fish that swell up in defense, and suddenly deflate to escape when trapped,
- the occasional dolphin in the waters further away,
- and other charming local residents such as lichen, jellyfish, mollusks, sea-slugs, sea urchins, echinoderms, crabs and other crustaceans, mudskippers, worms. Many of these are decorated with brilliant colors and intricate designs. The beaches of the Gujarat coast are breeding grounds for the Green Sea Turtle and other marine turtles. In the deeper sea of this area lives the whale shark, feeding off plankton, considered the largest fish in the world, now endangered because it is killed for its flesh and cartilage oil.
The blackbuck for which the park was created lives mostly in the grasslands on the northern side. Found only in South Asia, the blackbuck once lived all across India, but now the largest population is here, and few are found outside Gujarat. The conservation of the blackbuck here has been a big success, however, it remains endangered due to its dependence on such a limited area to live in, but the local population has risen from a low of 200 in 1966 to around 3400 now. Given such a large population in such a small area, the chances of spotting one are very high, especially since the wide open grasslands make it easy to spot these animals leaping high over the grasses. The breeding seasons are October and February.
Other animals in the sanctuary include the nilgai (another Indian antelope), jackal, wolf, jungle cat, and fox, but the other main attraction is the bird life. Pelicans, flamingos, white and painted storks, three kinds of cranes, many birds of prey, and the rare Stolizca’s Bushchat all live here, mostly in the southern part of the park, where all the wetlands lie. The extremely rare Lesser Florican, one of the 50 rarest birds in the world, breeds here. If you’re lucky, you might see one of its characteristic courtship displays, in which a male will jump upwards out of the grass to impress females. In the winter, thousands of harriers arrive from central Europe to spend the cooler months here; you can see them in the evenings coming back from feeding around the neighboring cotton fields. One in particular, the Montagu’s Harrier, is a major predator of the locust, a great problem for farms all around the area; as a safe haven for the pest-controlling harriers, the park serves an important role in local agriculture .
Locally known as ‘Ghud Khar’ was once common in the North-western India. West Pakistan and South Iran. They are now found only in the Rann of Kachchh of Gujarat State. The Wild Ass falls in Family Equide which includes Horses, Zibras and Donkeys.
Indian Wild Ass is one of the sturdiest animals in the world, withstanding scorching midday temperatures unto 45° C or more without any shelter in midst of the desert and facing long periods of drought as well as other calamities with relative ease, where others cannot survive. It has strength and speed of a horse and can run at speeds of 60 to 70 Km/hr. A mature beast stands 120 cms. in height and 210 cms. in length, weighing about 230 kgs. It possesses a shiny white coat with greyish-brown patches and a black or brown hairy stripe in the centre enhancing its beauty. They move about either singly or in herds (10 to 30) in search of fodder and sweet water, resting only in hot afternoon hours. They eat what they get, generally scrubby grass and pods of prosopis.
The best time to visit the sanctuary is very early in the morning. Excursions by jeep at specific times in the morning and evening are available from Dhrangadhra, Patadi or Zainabad (near Viramgam railway station). There are also private jeeps for hire from any of these places. You can also use buses or inter-city jeeps traveling from Dhrangadhra to Patadi to reach Range Bajana gate. Whatever your transport, hiring a knowledgeable guide is highly recommended.
The Rann Riders Resort in Dasada organizes safaris to the Sanctuary by jeep or camel, specializing in birdwatching during the winter season. Contact Muzahid Malik at +919879786006 for more information. The Royal Safari Camp in Bajana also organizes safaris to the Sanctuary by jeeps. Contact: 079-65418951, +919925200657 for more information.Desert Coursers, in Zainabad, also offers excursions into the Sanctuary, based out of its unique camp of traditional Bajania kooba houses, acquainting visitors not just with the local wildlife but also the local human history and rural traditions. Call Dhanraj Malik at 9426372113 for more information. Zainabad can be accessed from Viramgam railway station or other nearby towns by bus or chhakda.
In order to truly experience the Rann, an excursion of more than one day is strongly recommended. Wildlife is not a packaged event; you can visit the Taj Mahal for an hour and say you’ve seen it, but a living ecosystem is another matter. Animals must be sought out, are often reclusive, and are not necessarily where you expect them to be. Plus, the huge variety of wildlife here cannot possibly be experienced in a short period. Spending at least one night camped on the Rann will dramatically increase how much you connect with the landscape and its inhabitants; settling into camp in the late evening and watching the desert stars appear at night is an experience not likely to be forgotten.
For more details, contact: Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wild Ass Sanctuary, Dhangadhra District Surendra Nagar Gujarat Ph.: 02754 -23016.
A black tailed godwit gracefully descends upon the tranquil water, flutters its wings and sails on. A small, brown and white wader with a slightly up curved bill, the bird has traveled 3500 kms from its nesting ground in Central Europe to spend the winter at Nalsarovar in Gujarat!
Clouds upon clouds of more than 200 types of birds land in this lake having made an equally long journey to escape the harsh winter of their nesting areas. Here they find food and warmth. These migrant birds visit Nalsarovar every year from November to February. During these four months water is plentiful and fish, insects and aquatic plants abound in the lake – an ideal environment for the birds. Nalsarovar at this time is a birdwatcher’s delight.
When food and water are scarce in Nalsarovar, some birds go away for short periods to nearby areas and return to the lake after monsoon to a feast of fish and insects. These are the resident birds. The lake – Nalsarovar – and the wetlands around it were declared a bird sanctuary in 1969. Spread over 120 sq.kms, the lake and the extensive reed beds and marshes are an ideal habitat for aquatic plants and animals. The lake attracts a large variety of birds like plovers, sandpipers and stints.
By rail: The Nearest Railway station are Viramgam – 40 kms & Ahmedabad – 64 Kms
By air: The Nearest airport is Ahmedabad (64 kms).
It is never a ‘killing-experience’ if you have a vehicle and if you are accompanied by guards! This is the place, where you may come across a leopard, a palm civet, an Indian civet, four-horned antelope, langurs, Loten’s sunbird, large green barbet, yellow checked tit, crested serpent eagle, grey junglefowl and a pit viper…! A visit to Ratanmahal is indeed rewarding.
About 55.65 sq. km area of the Sanctuary is a triangular landmass, which covers reserve forests of 11 villages. Forest originally belonged to ex-ruler of Devgadh Baria State. Eleven villages with a population of about 7000 are located in and around the Sanctuary and 41 villages are located in its interaction zone. An area of 150 ha is in possession of irrigation department. Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh constitutes boundary in south and east of the Sanctuary, whereas forests in west, and revenue areas in north surround the Sanctuary.
The multistoried forest provides a suitable habitat for variety of birds ranging from land birds to water birds. As per the IUCN classification many rare and endangered species of birds are also found in this sanctuary. The reptiles include snakes, tortoises and lizards of various types. The rarest Indian Python is observed beyond Muni ji ki kutia.
Post-monsoon to winter is the best time to visit the Sanctuary. The nearest railway stations are Palanpur; 45 kms. and Iqbalgadh; 8 kms. The Nearest airport is Ahmedabad (178 kms).
Vansda National Park
With trees reaching a height of 120 ft. the forests of Vansda are dense and varied. With the rain gods being generous (over 2,000 mm rainfall), parts of the Park have moist deciduous forest with kaatas bamboo. Dry deciduous forest occurring in other areas has ‘manvel’ bamboo and adds to the diversity of habitats.
The variety of plants (over 450 species) keeps our eyes searching for more and leaves us content at the end of the day. Beautiful Orchids are a sight to behold thanks to their dainty and pretty flowers. Even a rotting log is decorated with ferns and mushrooms. The ‘bracket fungus’ on logs and tree trunks will definitely catch your attention. You may also come across a wild relative of the banana plant.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but in Vansda it’s everywhere in different forms. Small creatures with their amazing diversity are the real treasures. Among these are over 60 species of butterflies and 121 species of spiders. The largest of the spiders of Gujarat – the Giant wood spider is common here. In fact, recently 8 new species of spiders were reported from Vansda. A trip here means getting lost in observing myriads of insects, centipedes, millipedes and snails. And to stop you in your tracks are the elusive snakes of which there are over 30 species. About 11 types of frogs and toads ensure that the snakes continue to thrive here.
For the bird-watcher too there are 115 species of birds including those found only in the Western Ghats like the Great Black Woodpecker, Malabar Trogon, Shama and Emerald Dove. Other noteworthy avian wonders include the Grey Hornbill, Racket-Tailed Drongo, Paradise Flycatcher, Leaf birds, Thrushes and Sunbirds. Although Vansda has lost the Tiger, Wild Dog, Otter, Sambar and Sloth bear; it still boasts a good diversity of mammals such as the Leopard, Hyena, Jungle Cat, Civets, Mongooses, Macaques, Barking Deer, Four-horned antelopes and the only herd of Spotted Deer in this part of the State.
Visitors must get permission a few days in advance, and it is advisable to call before you make the journey to make sure that the park is not closed due to bad weather and road conditions. There is no camping allowed. Entrance fee is Rs. 20/- per person for Indians, 5 USD per person for Foreigners, and Rs 200/- per vehicle (light motor vehicle), though these fees are subject to change. For updated information and details contact the Range Forest Officer Tel: 0230 230057 or Deputy Conservator of Forests, Dang (South), Ahwa Tel: 02631220246 or Forests and Environment Department 14/8, Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar, Gujarat 382010, Fax: 079 23252156
HINGOLGADH NATURE EDUCATION SANCTUARY
The green lush patch of Hingolgadh sanctuary stands in stark contrast with the arid zone of neighboring areas of Saurashtra. Dry, deciduous scrub forest along with undulating verdant hills create a ubiquitous manifestation of nature’s glory. During rains the savannah lush grasslands blend with the green of the scrubby forest and perks up with various forms of life. The Sanctuary spread over an area of 654 sq kms, was declared a sanctuary in 1980. In 1984 its ample of natural offerings recognized the place as an eco-educational center and is administrated by the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation in Gandhinagar as the Hingolgadh Nature Education Sanctuary.
The tropical grassland ecosystem characterized by the spread of tall grasses amidst trees and shrubs is a unique hideout and dwelling for diverse range of animals and reptiles. Chinkara, Bluebull, Wolf, Jackal, Foxes, Indian Porcupine, Indian Hare, Hyena, Flying foxes and the likes add an animated fervor to this jungle. Almost 230 different kinds of birds render this area into their domicile over the year. Native birds like the vibrant Red-vented Bulbul, twittering Green bee-eater, Spotted Dove, Wood Pecker are commonly seen flying and nesting all over the region.
Thnax to Gujarat Tourism
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