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
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary:
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, a 105 sq km sanctuary comprising a large lake and its surrounds. Nalsarovar is renowned as one of the finest birding places in Western India. Besides the extensive variety of birds seen in large flocks at the lake, and their predators like the marsh harrier and fishing eagles, visitors can also watch passerine birds at the neighbouring bushes, grasslands and fields. Saras cranes are a frequent sighting in the fields around Nalsarovar.
Little Rann of Kutch, Dasada:
The Wild Ass Sanctuary is located in the Little Rann of Kutch of the Gujarat State in India. It covers an area of 4954 km². The Sanctuary is named after a sub species of wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), the last population of which it harbours. The Rann is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind in the entire world. It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains.
The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea. The variety of the geomorphic facets of Kutch such as the present surface configuration, its landforms, drainage characteristics and relief pattern clearly reveals a complex interplay of tectonics, sea-level changes and lithology as also erosion and deposition.
The Rann can be considered a large ecotone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. During monsoon, the Rann gets inundated for a period of about one month. It is dotted with about 74 elevated plateaus or islands, locally called ‘bets’. The largest plateau called Pung Bet has an area of 30.5 km² and the highest island Mardak is 55 m.
The vast cover of saline mudflats in the Sanctuary has no vegetation, except on the fringes and bets. Vegetation is largely xerophytic with the ground cover predominated by ephemerals. Their active growth is triggered by the advent of monsoon rains. Although the islands and fringes both have been colonized by Prosopis juliflora, the islands have a richer floral diversity than that of the fringes. 253 flowering plant species have been listed, out of which the number of species of trees was 18, shrubs-23, climbers/twiners-18, herbs-157 and grasses-37. Bets and fringe area of extensive marine saline flats of the Little Rann of Kutch mainly 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., Prosopis Cineraria, etc. The dominant families representing more than 10 species are Fabaceae, Asteraceae, Cyperaceae and Poaceae. Herbaceous taxa are predominant over shrubs and trees. 107 species of algae are present in the water bodies of the area.
The Sanctuary is habitat to about 93 species of invertebrates, including 25 species of zooplanktons, 1 species of annelid, 4 crustaceans, 24 insects, 12 molluscs and 27 spiders. Totally 4 species of amphibians (frogs and toads) and 29 species of reptiles (2 species of turtles, 14 species of lizards, 12 snakes and 1 crocodile) occur. The mixing of tidal water from the Gulf of Kutch with the freshwater discharged from the rivers takes place in the Little Rann of Kutch, making it an important spawning ground for prawns. Metapenaeus kutchensis is the most dominant and important prawn in the area. The sanctuary provides an important feeding, breeding and roosting habitat for a large number of birds due to its strategic location on bird migration route and its connection with the dynamic Gulf of Kutch. According to an estimate about 70,000-75,000 birds nests in an area spread over 250 acres. Nine mammalian orders with 33 species/subspecies have been reported from the Little Rann of Kutch, including the world’s last population of the khur sub-species of the wild ass.