Wildlife in India | Wildlife Sanctuaries | National Parks in India

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India has a variety of wildlife habitat and offers some of the most unforgettable wildlife settings in the world.

India's geographic, climate and vegetation diversity make it the home of over 1200 bird and 350 animal species, many of which are unique to the subcontinent. India's protected wilderness consists of 53 national parks and 247 sanctuaries spread over 90000 sq. km of land. The Gir Forests in Gujarat is the only surviving home of the Asiatic Lion. Manas and Kaziranga in Assam have a significant population of one horned rhinos and Periyar in Kerala is best known for wild elephant viewing. Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Sariska, Ranthambore, Dudhwa and Corbett Park are some of the country's best known tiger reserves. Sundarban, Asia's largest mangrove is the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Bharatpur has the largest Bird Sanctuary in Asia. Water birds include herons, ibis, pelicans, painted storks, spoonbills, egrets, open billed storks, various species of ducks and geese as well as the endangered Siberian Crane.

October to March is the most pleasant time to visit any sanctuary in the country. All sanctuaries are accessible by car and all have accommodation within or near them.

It’s only the Indian subcontinental that both the tiger and the lion can be found. This interesting fact is also a tiny indicator of the vast variety of habitants available to wildlife (and Tourist) in India. While a tiger hunts alone, crouching behind cover, lions rush at their prey needing good visibility and no obstructions. The tiger therefore needs forests just as lion needs savannah grasslands,two very different habitats .And India has a bewilderingly rich variety of habitats and forest on offer , many of which have atleast one animal unique to them:Himalayan high altitude (snow leopard,ibex,musk,deer); eastern rainforests and swaqmps (rhinos) ;semi –arid scrubs and savannah in the west (lion,black buck);rainforests of the western ghats (Nilgiri tahr);mangroves (where the tiger has adapted to eating fish!) to name a few these are protected in 89 National Park and 482 Wildlife Sanctuaries.

You may think that the story of wild life in India would be all about animals and forests, and you could be excused for thinking so. But life is rarely so simple, certainly wild life is not. For a start, your ‘animal’ may encompass a sharp-toothed roaring mammal but would you consider a tiny bigeyed loris as wildlife.And the forest-do you have mixed deciduous, Sub-Himalayan, alluvial, semi-evergreen, or mangrove in mind. And then there are the Maharajas. No self respending Indian wildlife story so much as gets off to a start without Maharajas. And hunters, and conservationists, and the delicious paradox of hunters-turned conservationists, and the delicious paradox of hunters –turned –conservationists.

Defined in the 1972 Wildlife protection act and as an IUCN category, National Park are given the highest degree of protection. They are ‘core’ wildlife preserves, for the “conservation of species or habitats”; in which almost no human activity allowed. They are funded by the central and state governments in Partnership, but are managed by the state government concerned. At times; a National Park may be a smaller, core zone of a larger wildlife sanctuary.

•        Bandhavgarh National Park, M.P.
•        Kanha National Park, M.P.
•        Great Himalayan National park, H.P.
•        Corbett National Park, Uttaranchal
•        Kaziranga National Park, Assam
•        Eravikulam National Park, Kerala
•        Mudumalai National Park, Ooty
•        Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan
•        Gir National Park, Gujarat
•        Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
•        Sunder bans National Park, West Bengal

As far as protection of wildlife in India goes, large parts of it all indeed began with the tiger. In the early 20th century, there were possibly some 40,000 tigers in India. By 1970 the number was estimated to be having fallen to 2,000; it was still legal to hunt tigers and export their skin till then. The centrally sponsored project Tiger was launched in 1973, with 9 tiger reserve. Tigers at that time were facing the standard problems of destruction of habitat (forests being cleard or disturbed due to timber operations, mining, drilling……….) poaching ,which is still rampant, and loss of food since the tiger prey-smaller animals – suffer from forest destruction as well. All of these problems persists to date in various degrees.

The project tiger measure included setting up ‘core areas’out of bounds to the public as well as activities like grazing or forestry so that the tigers could breed in peace. ‘Buffer zones’ were made around core areas .Protected coridores were made between the forests so that the increasing population could spread out.while some incredibely heartening numbers of increase in tiger population were bandied about in the earlier decades, these were in all probability inflated to show success and based on uncertain methology such as basing calculation on pug marks.But there definitely was an upshowing in numbers. The no. of tiger reserves is now 27 and according to the recent estimates there are around 2,600 tiger in country.

Apart from ensuring the survival of the tiger, project tiger inherentely meant the protection of the forests of several others species (such as the endangered hard – ground barasingha in Kanha), pure river water (since some 300 rivers floth through the tiger reserves) checking erosion, preserving our ecosystems...Billy Arjan Singh, famous for hand – rearing the tiger Tara in the Dudhwa National Park, Puts it most eloquently: “The air we breathe and the water we drink stem from the biodiversity of the universal environment and its economics. The tiger is at the centre of this truth. If it goes, we go.”

Kaziranga National Park, Assam

In a UN Heritage listing, Kaziranga has been described as “one of the last areas in eastern India almost undisturbed by man”. It is most celebrated for the presence of the one –horned Rhinoceros, which had been pouches almost two extinction, mainly because in Southeast Asia its “horn” (actually a mass of matted hair) is believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Today the park has the world largest population of this rhino. The number came up to 1,500 with protection. The rhino apart Kaziranga contains some 14 other threatened species such as the hoolock gibbon and the bristly hare of which, it was estimated, only 101 specimens are left in wild.

Manas National Park, Assam
“Richest in species of all Indian wildlife areas”Manas encompasses diverse habitats such as wooden semi-evergreen hills,grassland,and deciduous forest.Manas suffered great damage during 1988-1996, thanks to Bodo insurgency, when the park had to be closed and entered the UN;s Heritage in Danger list. It has the largest number of endangered species among Indian National Parks. Some of it’s33 threatened species are golden langur, which is endemic to Manas ,tiger, of which it has second largest population, pygmy hog, Ganges dolphin, sloth bear, clouded leopard etc. The Bengal Florican threatened species of bustard, is also endemic to Manas.

Nanda Devi, Uttaranchal

Associate with one of the highest park in the world, Nanda Devi this National Park is closed to tourist to protect its fragile ecosystem; the first successful mountaineering expedition to Nanda Devi in 1936 drew attention to the wild life aspects of the untouched area. It was made a game sanctuary in 1939 and later a national park, which is the core zone of much larger area. In term of Habitat, the national Park lies in the huge glacial basin of the Rishi Ganga River, surrounded by some spectacular peaks and snow bound for some six months every year. This makes it home to the Himalayan Tahr, Himalayan musk deer, Himalayan Black bear, snow leopard, and goral to name some of the exotic fauna.

Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan
A private duck shooting reserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur since the 1950 century, Bharatpur become a Bird Sanctuary in 1956.The wetland that form the base of the santuary.were artificially created by diverting the waters of an irrigation canal for the Maharaja’s hunting purposes. This is birds country large carnivores are absent from here. Some 364 species of birds have been recorded in the park. It’s a major wintering area for a large number of aquatic birds from places like Afghanistan, Turmenistan, and china and is especially famous as the last known wintering ground of the Siberian crane in India. This crane flies a route of 6,400 km from Siberia. Its number has been declining alarmingly through; only one pair was observed in 2001.Keoladeo is a really successful breeding site for herons, storks, and cormorants. You can also spot gadwalls; Shovellers, teals, duck, cormorant, storks, sandpipers. Bicycles, rickshaws, and boats for navigating the wetlands are available.

Sunderbans, West Bengal
Sunderbans is part of the 10,000 sq km of Mangrove forests and water that spread across India and Bangladesh (of which some 40 % lies in India) it’s also the part of one of the world’s largest deltas formed by the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghan rivers. It’s an ever –changing fluid geometry of land and water, with tides and alluvial deposit shaping the two. You can explore this national park on a network of waterways, some of which can be a mile across, spotting Ganges dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin, finless porpoise and water birds such as storks, ibises, kingfishers, as also egrets and herons. The tiger population around 270 is the largest in India. Other mammals include the wild boar - the main prey for the tiger here fishing cat, spotted deer. River terrapin and estuarine crocodiles abound and the famous olive ridley turtle nests here too. The mangroves have adapted to flooding and salinity by using roots that breathe called pneumatophores.

When visiting a protected area:

•        Do follow the rules; for example, do not walk around if you are not allowed to.
•        Wear Clothes in shades of brown and green that don’t make you stand out in the forest.
•        Avoid perfumes and smoking (the latter is illegal anyway) or the animals will smell you sooner and disappear faster.
•        Carry binoculars.
•        Animals are extremely wary of the human voice.
•        Don’t make a noise: that means talk softly, don’t play music avoid noisy vehicles and don’t use the car horn.
•        Don’t leave behind any litter; you can kill an animal with a carelessly left plastic bag.
•        There is no one ‘best season’ applicable to all protected areas. Some mammals may be better seen as summer approaches          and they tend to congregate around water bodies, while birds in Keoladeo Ghana are a glorious experience in post-monsoon          September-October.
•        Find out about the habits of the animal you most want to see to avoid disappointment.

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