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India – a land well known for its tigers and elephants but few people realise that wolves occur here too. Tour is led by Kartikeya Singh, a expert naturalist and who was part of the team that made the natural history film called, ‘Desert Wolves of India’ for BBC. An intimate story of the Indian wolf and how it survives amidst a dense population of desert people and their livestock. It illustrates the importance of an age-old culture which helps preserve the wildlife around it – even the wolves.
A tour for mammal enthusiasts and birdwatchers with a focus on Wolves, Jackals, Striped Hyenas, Asiatic Lions & Wild Dogs and Tigers.
We visit Gujarat, India’s most westerly State. We start our tour with visit to Gir National Park. Here the top predator is the globally threatened Asiatic Lion and you also have a good chance of seeing a Leopard. We then visit Velavadar Black Buck National park. Our focus will be Indian Grey Wolf and Striped Hyena. The park is known for its hundreds of elegant Blackbuck, Nilgai antelopes and Harriers. We travel north to Little Rann of Kuth. We explore the Rann and the main attraction here is the Asiatic Wild Ass and Grey Wolf. Avian delights here are Pallid Scops Owl, Sykes’s Nightjar and Macqueen’s Bustard, Indian Courser, both Oriental and Small Pratincoles and large flocks of Demoiselle Cranes and flamingos. Later we continue to Kanha National Park, The horse shoe shaped Kanha valley has sometimes been called the N’Gorongoro of India. Herds of the Kanha miscellany, the axis deer, the Samber deer, the wild pig and occasionally the gaur (Indian Bison) throng the central parkland. With its flourishing herds and relatively tolerant predators, Kanha offers almost unrivaled scope to a keen photographer. As many as 60 Tigers are reputed to survive here, plus many other great mammals such as Leopard, Sloth Bear, Gaur, Wild Dog, Striped Hyena, Jackals, Jungle Cat and Chowsingha (the Fourhorned Antelope), and a very rich birdlife.
– Led by award winning expert naturalist.
– Asiatic Lions , Wolves, Striped Hynes, Asiatic Wild Ass, Jackals, Wilddogs and Tigers
– Stay Eco friendly Lodges and in a Heritage Palace
– Interact with local wildlife expects.
National Parks Visited:
The Gir National Park:
The Gir National Parkwas established on 18th September, 1965, as a Forest Reserve, primarily to conserve the Asiatic lion. It is the only remaining habitat of the Asiatic lion, which has been confined to this forest, since 1884.
Today, it harbours around 32 species of mammals, approximately 300 species of birds and 26 species of reptiles along with mind boggling 2000 species of insects. For people world over Gir is famous for the Asiatic lion but in addition to that it forms a unique habitat for ratel, rusty spooted cat, pangolin, ruddy mongoose, civet cat, paradise flycatcher etc. It has a variety of rare plants that include Butea monosperma var. Iutea, Comifora mukul, Bridelia retusa, Sterculia urens, Cretivea religiosa and Vanda roxburghii.
Besides the flora and fauna, the forest has it all- a succession of rugged ridges, isolated hills, plateaus, valleys, riverine areas and proximity to coastal terrain. This striking landscape owes its presence to a vast zone of dissection of lava. The entire area is divided into a catchment of rivers Hiran, Shinghoda, Shetrunji, Macchundari, Raval, Malan, Datardi and Popatdi. The ecosystem of Gir, though small, provides ecological security and environmental amelioration for the drought prone region of Saurashtra. The rivers are home to the marsh crocodile.
The Gir forest has seen a dramatic fall and rise in the population of the Asiatic Lion over the past 100 years. At the beginning of this century Gujarat was struck with a famine that resulted in a severe drought. It resulted in a painful drama; the lions because of the lack of food resources began to prey on human beings. The reaction was immediate. A terrible backlash followed against the lions and the population witnessed a catastrophic decline. By 1910 reports suggested that only 24 lions were left in the wild (the authentication of this report has not been proved though and some sources say that it was spread so that the killing stops, the actual figure may have been close to 100).
Whatever the actual figure was, the fate of the Asiatic Lion seemed doomed. The Lions did stage a remarkable comeback, thanks largely due to the Nawab of Junagadh, a local monarch, who banned all lion hunting in the area. The lion population did increase and currently there are about 300 or so of these awe inspiring beasts left in the jungles of Gir, a 560-square-mile (1,450-square-kilometer) sanctuary.
The initiative taken by the nawab received a boost when the government decided to establish Gir as a Forest Reserve, primarily to conserve the Asiatic lion.in 1965. The Gir forest is an interesting mixed deciduous type with a plethora of trees like the teak, ber, jamun, a variety of acacia, particularly babul. It is one of the most scenic too with hilly tracts and rivers flowing through it.
But Gir is Gir because of the lions. Some quick facts about the Asiatic Lion:
The Asiatic Lion is a subspecies that split from their African cousins perhaps 100,000 years ago. They are smaller than their African counterparts and have shorter manes. Interestingly they have a long fold of skin on their undersides, something that is not too common in the lions of Africa. Unlike Africa, where the Lions prey in large groups to tackle the large prey animals; the Lions at Gir prey in much smaller groups because of the smaller size of their prey.
Scientific name: Panthera leo persica
Weight: Male 150-250Kg; Female 120-180Kg
Length (head and body): Male 1.7-2.5m; Female 1.4-1.75m
Length (tail): 70-105cm
Shoulder height: Male 1-1.23m; Female 80-107cm
Sexual Maturity: Male 5 years; Female 4 years
Mating season: All year round
Gestation period: 100-119 days
Number of young: 1 to 6
Birth interval: 18-26 months
Typical diet: Deer, antelope, wild boar, buffalo
Lifespan: 16-18 years
The Gir is also the home of the Maldharis, the people who have co-existed with the lions for ages. The Maldharis are primarily cattle herders and their cattle form a substantial part of the lions’ diet. These great hospitable people have been facing a crisis of late though. The Maldharis who have given the lion a place in their lore and songs have been persuaded by the government to leave the vicinity of the sanctuary and relocate somewhere else. It is cruel to push these people away from their homeland but sadly that is something that needs to be done to save the remaining Asiatic Lions.
Blackbuck National Park:
Velavadar in the Bhal region of Saurashtra is a unique grassland ecosystem that has attracted fame for the successful conservation of the blackbuck, the wolf and the lesser florican. This 36 sq km tract of grasslands, evokes visions of the African Savannahs. Three waterholes and watchtowers make wildlife viewing easy.
Indian Antelope called the blackbuck was once found in open plains throughout the country and the state of Gujarat. Its largest population at present occurs in Velavadar N.P. It is graceful and beautiful antelope and has ringed horns that have a spiral twist of three to four turns and are up to 70 cm long. The body’s upper parts are black and the underparts and a ring around the eyes are white. The light brown female is usually hornless.
When the rut (mating season) reaches a peak, one dominant male establishes dominance and it’s a sight to see him strut around with its head held high with the horns almost touching its back. After six months the mated females each bear one fawn, which are very well camouflaged in the grasslands. The fawn joins the herd along with the mother and remains with her for more than a year.
Blackbuck is the fastest of the Indian Antelopes, they move-off in a series amazing leaps and bounds when threatened, and then break into a lighting run. The resultant picture is that of a graceful and experienced dancer whose form and grace can cast a spell on the beholder.
The wolf and the jackals are the main predators in the park. Wolves here use shrub land for lying-up, denning and for rendezvous and depend on blackbuck, hare and other small animals as their prey. Another rare sight is that of the lesser florican who migrate here and settle here to breed in the grasslands. After arrival, the male bird marks the territory and displays to attract the female. The courtship display of the male is a spectacular vertical leap up to a hight of two meters and may display over 500 times in a day! Velavadar is also an excellent place to see a large number of harriers hawks. The Park is very rich in other birdlife as well.
A word of praise would not be out of place for the Kathi community, who like the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan have protected the blackbuck with vigour and zeal, as it is associated practices. Such communities are the real strength of wildlife protection in Gujarat
Little Rann of Kutch, Dasada:
The Little Rann of Kutch is a birding paradise and has been declared a Ramsar Site. During the safaris in the Rann expect to see large flocks of larks, and other dryland birds like sandgrouse, coursers, plovers, chats, warblers, babblers, shrikes. Among the many winter visitors are the houbara bustard and spotted sandgrouse.
The best birding is at the lakes and marshes in and around the Rann where birds gather in numbers beyond comprehension during the winter months from October to March. These are the months when demmossile and common cranes are seen in incredibly large numbers. The wetlands also attract flamingos, pelicans, storks, ibises, spoonbill, a variety of ducks and other waterfowl.
The Rann is also the hunting ground of raptors like the short-toed eagle, aquila eagles, six species of falcon, buzzards and three species of harrier. It is one of the few places where harriers can be seen roosting on open-ground at night.
Birding sites near Dasada
Rann Riders is the base to visit the bird-rich Nawa Talao lake, a number of seasonal wetlands near Dasada, the village lake of Dasada, the wetland near Patdi fort, Viramgam town lake and many reservoirs of Surendranagar district that offer good winter birding opportunities. Birds like rose-coloured starling and green pigeon are often seen at Dasada village.
In the monsoon months of July, August and September, lesser florican visits the grasslands of Surendranagar District to breed and the vegetation around the wetlands becomes the breeding area for painted storks, several species of resident ducks and other waterfowl. Lesser flamingo breeding colonies have been recorded and photographed in the Little Rann of Kutch during these months.
Kanha National Park:
Kanha is India’s largest National Park encompasses nearly two thousand square kilometres of deciduous forest, grasslands, hills and gently meandering rivers – home to literally hundreds of species of animals and birds. Prior to this, the whole area was one enormous vice-regal hunting ground, its game the exclusive preserve for high-ranking British army officers and civil servants seeking trophies for their colonial bungalows. It is last remaining habitat of the hard ground barasingha, or swamp deer, which was brought back from the brink of extinction. This picturesque reserve presently boasts of having large tigers population, as it has the ideal habitat. The meadows called maidans surrounded by thick forests create ideal grazing spots for the hundreds of chital deer, barasingha and sambar deer and ideal hunting ground for tigers, leopards, jackal and wild dogs. Gaur – Indian Bison, sloth bear, wild pig, striped hyena, muntjacs – barking deer, chousingha – 4 horn antelope, jungle cat, mongoose, rhesus macaque and languor monkey are also regularly seen in the reserve. This diverse landscape also supports over 250+ species of Indian birds including migratory species. The Indian jungle fowl, which is the ancestor of domestic hens, is common here.