Rann of Kutch

The Rann of Kutch, one of the geographical wonder of India is located in the coastal Kutch district of Gujarat state in India. The Rann is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind in the entire world. It is a vast, dry and unbroken bare mudflat of dark silt, encrusted with salts, but after the rain this rugged landscape transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland, which support the unique animal and birdlife of that region. The geomorphic facts of the Rann reveal that, once the area was a shallow continuation of Arabian Sea. Later due to geological changes the connection between the shallows and Arabian Sea vanished and a shallow lake formed. Later river like Ghaggar, which was feeding fresh water to the shallow, disconnected. Slowly the shallow dried off and this enormous desert like landmass was formed. Total area of Rann is divided in two part Little Rann of Kutch and Greater Rann of Kutch.

Little Rann of Kutch

The Little Rann can be considered a large ecotone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. During the monsoon, desert like Rann gets flooded for couple of month and transformed into vast wetland, where about 74 Island like elevated plateaus are only visible. These elevated plateaus are locally called ‘bets’ and largest of them is ‘Pung Bet’ with an area of 30.5 Sq. Km.

Little Rann has got fascinating landscape and rich bio-diversity. Within Little Rann an area of 4954 Sq Km is declared as The Wild Ass Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is named after a sub species of Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur), the last population of its kind in the world. The sanctuary also provides an important feeding, breeding and roosting habitat for a large number of birds due to its strategic location on bird migration route and the proximity of Gulf of Kutch. According to a survey about 70,000-75,000 birds nests every year in an area spread over 250 acres.

Little Rann provides a unique space to venture for jeep or camel safari in search of Wild Ass and some very rare and highly endangered bird species with superb view of sunrise or sunset.

Flora and Fauna:

This unique mudflat of the sanctuary has no vegetation, except on the fringes and highlands (bets). Vegetation is largely xerophytic with the ground cover predominated by ephemerals. Here growth of the vegetation is totally depends on monsoon rain. Though all the bets and fringe areas are colonised by Prosopis juliflora but the bets have more floral diversity than fringes. Total 253 species of flowering plants recorded from the area including 18 trees and 37 grass species. Due to typical saline character, Little Rann support a variety of indigenous plants like Suaeda spp., Salvadora persica, Capparis decidua, Capparis deciduas, Calotropis procera, Tamarix sp., Aeluropus lagopoides, Cressa cretica, Sporobolus spp etc. 107 species of algae are also present in the water bodies of the Little Rann area.

Total 33 species / subspecies of mammalians have been reported from the Little Rann of Kutch, including the world’s last population of the khur sub-species of the Wild Ass. Main carnivore species found in the areas are Indian Wolf, Desert Fox, Golden Jackal, Striped Hyena, Desert Cat, Jungle Cat and Fishing Cat. Other smaller mammals like Hares, Hedgehogs, Gerbil are also seen in the sanctuary. Herbivores species like Blackbuck, Nilgai or blue bull and the graceful Chinkara are also present in this sanctuary.

Diverse dry habitat and wetland in the monsoon support a great variety of bird life in Little Rann of Katch. Little Rann is bird watchers paradise. During the safaris in the Rann one can expect to see some graceful dry-land birds like Great Indian Bustard, Macqueen's Bustard, Grey Francolin, Rain Quail, Jungle Bush Quail, Rock Bush Quail, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Painted Sandgrouse, Cream-coloured Courser, Indian Courser etc. Little Rann is the place where you can also get a chance to see the species like Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Sociable Lapwing. Lesser Florican also recorded from the Little Rann area.

The lakes and marshes in and around the Little Rann is place where water birds gather in great numbers during the winter months from October to March. During these period Demmossile and common cranes are seen in large numbers along with Sarus Crane, Great White Pelican, Spot-billed Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Western Reef Egret, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Tufted Duck, Greylag Goose, Bar-headed Goose, Comb Duck, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard etc.

Other notable species recorded in Little Rann are Black Stork, Black-necked Stork, Glossy Ibis, Red-necked Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, Laggar Falcon, Saker Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Egyptian Vulture, Eurasian Griffon, Cinereous Vulture, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Sparrow-hawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Eurasian Stone Curlew, Pied Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Indian Skimmer, Short-eared Owl, Sykes's Nightjar, Crested Lark, Rosy Starling, Bluethroat, Desert Wheatear etc.

Little Rann is also habitat to 27 spiders, 4 species of amphibians (frogs and toads), 2 species of turtles, 12 snakes including Red Sand Boa, Common Sand Boa, Saw-scaled Viper and 14 species of lizards including Spiny-tailed Lizard.

Greater Rann of Kutch

As the name suggested the greater part of Rann area of Kutch district is called Greater Rann of Kutch. Like Little Rann, Greater Rann is also a seasonal salt marsh. The area of Greater Rann even continued into the Sindh province of Pakistan. The Greater Rann stretched over 7505 Sq. Km. and along with Banni grassland on its southern edge creates a heaven for some of the rare and endangered species of birds and animal. This salty mudflat averaging 15 m above sea level changes its face during and after monsoon rain. The entire area fills with standing rain water during monsoon, interspersed with sandy islets of thorny scrub. These islets or bets shelters the highly endangered sub-species of Indian Wild Ass when the area flooded during monsoon.

Greatre Rann is not only famous for amazing landscape, its critical desert like environment and unique habitat also support a wide variety of flora and fauna and made it as a bio-diversity hotspot.

Flora and Fauna:

In greater Rann desert vegetation is primary floral base. Most of the marsh area consists of grasses like Apluda and Cenchrus species along with dry thorny shrubs. Prosopis juliflora specie is the dominant shrub and it create lots of problem. It grows fast and is liable for destroying several native plant species. Trees and other variety of plant species are found mainly in higher ground or bets. Some of the endemic and endangered plant species include Tamarix kutchensis, Ziziphus williamsii, and Cyperus dwarkensis. There was more than 40 species of grass found in Banni Grassland area but now only 15 species of them exist.

Like Little Rann, main attraction of Greater Rann is the Khur sub-species of Indian Wild-Ass. Other noteworthy mammalian species found in the greater Rann area are Indian Wolf, Golden Jackal, Desert Fox, Chinkara, Blackbuck and Nilgai or Blue Bull.

Not only the rugged landscape supports some famous desert birdlife like Great Indian Bustard and Macqueen’s Bustard, but marshland of Rann also supports numerous variety of waders and other birds. Greater Rann is a place where Lesser and Greater Flamingos come to breed in the marshy waters every year. Let aside the variety, sheer number of birds seen here is feast for eyes. During the month of December-March whole region became a birding paradise with gathering of thousands of Demoiselle Crane, Flamingos, Dalmatian Pelican, Black necked Stork etc. 32 species if raptors recorded from the area indicate the rich bio-diversity of the area. Some notable bird species found here are Lesser Florican, Indian Sandgrouse, Desert Courser, Cream Coloured Courser, Stoliczka’s Bushchat, Indian Skimmer, Peregrine Falcon, Egyptian Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Western Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Sparrow-hawk etc. 13 species of Lark also found in the Rann of Kutch area.

Jamnagar Marine National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary

Jamnagar Marine National Park is situated on the southern shore of Gulf of Kutch in the Jamnagar district of Gujarat State. An area of 457 Sq. km. was declared as Marine Sanctuary in the year 1980. Later in 1982 out of that an area of 162 Sq. Km designated as Marine National Park. This park has the distinction of being the first Marine National Park of India.

This area is a natural wonder of India with its marine and avifaunal species. 42 Island scattered over the sanctuary area in Gulf of Kutch. Fringed by coral reefs, these islands with pristine beaches, mangroves and swamps are the heaven for marine species and bird watchers. Sea floor here is decorated with colourful corals in various size and shapes. This very vibrant and active coral reefs shelters some of the unique marine life like Octopus, Jelly Fish, Sponges, Sea horses, Sea Turtles, Shrimps and Lobstars, Sea-anemones, exotic marine flowering plants etc. Not only the small creatures, corals of these reefs supply foods and shelters to various sizes of fish and Dolphins. Along with the colony of small creatures, fishes and plants in the coral reefs creates very fragile and exotic under water world with the brilliance of colours, shapes and size that are unknown, unheard and unimaginable to us.

Above water, the beaches, swamps and mangroves play a critical role in eco-system of this Marine sanctuary. Along with the coral reefs, the twisting roots of the mangroves also create such safe hiding place where underwater fish, shell-fish and other sea creatures hide from the predators and use the place as a nursery for hatching. The entire area is influenced by tidal water. So during low-tides, open beaches and sea shores acts as feeding ground for waders and other water birds. Mangroves with densely packed leaves and its spreading roots also used as nesting and roosting area by numerous bird species.

Out of 42 Islands, Pirotan Island is the most famous one to nature lovers and bird watchers. This fragile eco-system of the entire Gulf of Kutch including Jamnagar Marine Sanctuary is presently under the threat of destruction due extraction of corals and sands by cement industries, oil-spills, wastage of Oil Refineries & Chemical Industries draining into the water of the region and extensive use of mechanised fishing boats.

Flora and Fauna:

Six species of mangroves, several species of herbs, grasses and shrubs and 120 species of algae found in the marine sanctuary. Jamnagar Marine National Park showcases some of the exotic and unique marine life-form we can imagine. On the sea bed 37 species of soft and hard coral make the foundation of this sensitive eco-system. There are some soft corals and sponges which various fish species use as food and there is coral like huge brain corals, which change the look of sea floor. 70 species of Sponges, 27 species of prawns, 30 species of crabs, 3 species of Sea Snake, 400+ species of Molasses present in the area prove the rich bio-diversity of the sanctuary. Green Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley Sea Turtle and Leather Back Sea Turtle enrich the number of endangered and endemic species found in this sanctuary area. 3 marine mammal species including Finless Porpoise and Dugong is encountered frequently in the water of this marine national park.

Jamnagar Marine National Park not only describes the rich marine life, it also hosts some divers species of bird found in the western coast of India. Marine National park is famous for waders and water birds. 175 species of birds recorded from the area. Most famous of them is Crab Plover. This is the only area in India where you will find this species in huge number. Some other notable species of birds found here are Grey Patridge, Comb Duck, Northern Pintail Duck, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Black Necked Stork, Common Crane, Demoiselle Crane, Painted Stork, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Black Ibis, Jack Snipe, Pintail Snipe, Ruddy Turnstone, Ruff, Indian Courser, Great Thick-knee, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Pied Avocet, Black wing stilt, Black Tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, White-tailed Lapwing, Indian Skimmer, Caspian Tern, Western Reef Egret, Osprey, Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Pallid Harrier etc.

Velavadar National Park and Blackbuck Sanctuary

Velavadar National Park, also known as Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary is situated in the Saurashtra region of Bhavnagar district of the Gujarat State. Uniqueness of this small grassland is that, this is the only Tropical Grassland in India designated as a National Park. This 34 Sq. Km. area was declared as National Park in the year of 1972. History of this National Park dates back to the pre-independence period, when the area was a part of the princely state of Bhavnagar. The park was the grazing ground for the Maharaja’s Cattle. After independence due to immense pressure on the grassland, population of Blackbuck started to decrease alarmingly and the number almost touched meager 200 in the year 1966.

Immediately the 8.9 Sq. Km area of the grassland converted into Sanctuary. Later more area added and the National Park took present shape. This park is basically tropical flat grassland. However semi arid condition and influence of sea-water from Gulf of Cambay in some area creates the habitat of the park suitable for some endangered species of mammals and birds.

The flat dry grassland with the herds of antelope attracts thousand of photographers and nature lovers from around the world. One of the spectacular sights in this grassland is the unusual mating rituals of Blackbuck, which involves a vertical leap of the male antelope up to 2 mtrs. Walking down the grassland one can also confront with the last surviving population of Lesser Florican which also have a peculiar courtship ritual involving high jumps.

Flora and Fauna:

Area of the park mainly comprises of dense grassland, sparse grassland and shrubs. 39 species of grass, 46 species of sedges, shrubs and trees represents the floral variety of the park area. Species like Dichanthium annulatum, Sporobolus virginicus, Sporobolus coromandelianus, Sporobolus madernspatensis are the dominant grass species found in the grassland of Velavadar. Prosopis juliflora is the shrub which covered a large area and destroying other species. Among the trees Salvadora, Acacia nilotica, Zizyphus, Capparis and Suaeda are the species found in the park.

Velavadar is the park where conservation programme on Blackbuck, Indian Wolf and Lesser Florican is running successfully together. Other carnivores species found in the park are Jungle Cat, Jackal and Indian Fox. Nilgai or Blue Bull, Wild Boar, Indian Porcupine and Hares also play an important role in the diversity of this grassland. The park is home to over 180 species of resident and migratory birds. Lesser Florican and Indian Bustard are the most desirable bird species of the Velavadar grassland. Velavadar is also famous as the largest roosting site of the migratory Harriers. Montagu’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier and Eurasian Marsh Harrier are the species come every winter to this great grassland. Other interesting birds recorded from the park area are Great White Pelican, Spoonbill, Black Stork, Lesser Flamingo and Greater Flamingo, Imperial Eagle, Long-billed Vulture, Peregrine Falcon, Redheaded Merlin, Grey Partridge, Rain Quail, Sarus Crane, Demoiselle Crane, Indian Courser, Black-tailed Godwit, Indian Sandgrouse, Short-eared Owl, European Roller, Short-toed Lark, Crested lark, Black-breasted Weaver, Streaked Weaver etc. Reptiles found in Velavadar includes Saw Scaled Viper, Common Krait, Rat Snake and Sand Boa.

Gir National Park

Gir, the abode of the last surviving Asiatic Lion population is located in the Junagarh and Amreli district of Gujarat State in India. Gir is famous for Charismatic Lion population. Once this critically endangered lion species was spread across northern Africa, south west Asia and northern Greece but now it is only be found in Gir National Park with the number of 411, living in the wild.

Gir was declared as wildlife sanctuary in the year 1965 with an area of 1412 Sq. Km. and subsequently an area of 258.71 Sq. Km was declared as Gir National Park. The area inside the wildlife sanctuary consists of rugged ridges, isolated hills, plateaus and valleys dotted with water reservoirs. Dry and rugged habitat with unique desert like vegetation of Gir made it a home to some of the rare and endangered species of mammals and birds. Seven perennial rivers pass through the park area, which are the true lifeline of the Gir. During the summer months, the reservoirs made on the river like Machundri, Hiran, Godavari and Raval are the only source of water in this forest.

Gir is the only place in the world where Asiatic Lion still roams. Gir tells the story of great conservation effort. During British period, this area was very popular for trophy hunting. In early 1900 population of the Asiatic Lion came down to below 20. Realising the seriousness of the situation, conservation efforts was taken by the then Nawab of Junagadh and declared the area as ‘Protected’, which saved the species from the brink of extinction.

Though lions of Gir get the prime attention of the wildlife lovers, but without lion the area could be the most fascinating destination for bird watchers too in western India. People mostly link Gir with "Maldharis" who have survived through the ages by having symbiotic relationship with the lion. They are religious pastoral communities living in Gir.

Flora and Fauna:

Vegetation of Gir mostly consists of dry deciduous forest interspersed with semi-evergreen and evergreen flora along with scrub jungle and grasslands. More than 500 species of plants recorded from the Gir area. Common tree species found here are Teak, Dudhlo, Khair, Ber, Dhav, Hermo, Sadad, Timru, Saledi, Modad, khakhro etc.

Asiatic Lion is the most famous mammals of Gir. This particular specie is totally different from its African counterpart with prominent belly fold, smaller mane, lesser body size and weight. Total 38 species of mammals found in the National Park area. Other carnivore species present here like Indian Leopard, Jackal, Striped Hyena, Jungle Cat, Desert Cat, Rusty-spotted Cat, Indian Palm Civet strengthen the diversity of this unique habitat. Herbivores species like Sambar, Spotted deer or Chital, Blue Bull or Nilgai, Chousingha or Four-horned Antelpe (the world's only four-horned antelope), Chinkara and wild boar thrive in Gir. Rattle, Hanuman Langur, Porcupine, Black-napped Hare are among the other mammals of Gir.

More than 280 species of birds recorded from the area, which itself signify the rich natural heritage of the region. Critically endangered Lesser Florican is recorded from the grasslands of Gir. Some of the notable species found in Gir National Park are Painted Francolin, Grey Francolin, Ferruginous Duck, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Woolly-necked Stork, Black-necked Stork, Dalmatian Pelican, Red-necked Falcon, Saker Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Pallas's Fish Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Red-headed Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Crested Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrow-hawk, Tawny Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Baillon's Crake, Demoiselle Crane, Sarus Crane, Common Crane, Indian Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Painted Sandgrouse, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Brown Fish Owl, Short-eared Owl, European Roller, Indian Pitta, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Oriental Skylark, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Rosy Starling, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Crested Bunting etc.

The park has 37 species of reptiles in its record. Marsh Crocodile or Muggar generally found in the rivers and reservoirs of the park. Gir shelters highest number of Marsh Crocodile found in any protected areas of India. Indian Star Tortoise and Monitor Lizard are among the other reptilian species found in the park.