Gir National Park
Gir is the only home in India for the Asiatic Lion of which
there are nearly 300 in the park. The Gir National Park lies in the
Gujarat peninsula in South-Western India. The terrain is rugged with
low hills and the vegetation is mixed deciduous, with stands of
Teak, Acacia, Jamun, Tendu and Dhak trees, interspersed with large
patches of grasslands. The trees on the hills are sparse and
Within the sanctuary, there are numerous human
settlements of cattle herders called Maldharis with an estimated
20,000 head of livestock (which, incidentally, forms a significant
part of the Lionís diet). There are also places of Hindu worship and
pilgrimage and sulphur springs at Tulsi Shyam and Kankai Mata. The
edges of the park have good population of Indian Gazelle, protected
by religious sentiments of the local people.
Wildlife Attractions in Gir National Park
A distinct belt of vegetation is found along the main rivers and
streams. Species like the Jambu, Karanj, Umro, Vad, Kalam, Charal,
Sirus and Amli are mainly found here. These trees are mostly broad
leaved and evergreen, giving the area a cool shade and the moisture
content. Finally, Prosopis and Casuarina have been planted in the
coastal borders as part of the afforestation plan.
The Asiatic Lion is rated the most endangered
large carnivore globally. And India has the distinction of being the
last earthly refuge of the Asiatic lion. The Gir National Park and
Lion Sanctuary is the one and only remaining habitat of this proud
and majestic species.
An average Asiatic Lion, also known as the Indian Lion, is
generally 2.5 m to 2.9 m tall, and weighs between 200 to 250 kg. It
has a majestic mane and a big tail tuft. Indian Lions move about in
prides, comprising 2-3 male adults and more lionesses and cubs. They
communicate with each other with a variety of grunts, meows, growls,
moans and roars, and while female cubs stay with the pride, the
males leave after they are three years old.
The Asiatic Lions are lazy and indolent
creatures that prey on the Sambar, Chital, Nilgai, Wild Pig, and
occasionally on goats and camels. Lion males often live in pairs
that last a lifetime. However, in the pride it is the females who go
out hunting in packs and bring back prey, which is first devoured by
the male, and only then by the rest of the pack. In the daytime,
they live close to water holes and rest in the shade. Hunting is
relegated to dusk, or at night.
The Asiatic lion once ranged from Asia Minor
and Arabia through Persia to India. In fact, at the turn of the
century, Gir was a splendid mixed, deciduous forest of teak, acacia,
zizyphas and banyan, sprawled over some 3,386 sq. km. Lions would
have thrived there, were it not for their enemies-hunters and a
devastating famine that all but wrapped up the prey species. At one
time the estimated number of lions went down to as low as thirty.
However, due to the efforts of the authorities and the Gir National
Park, the Asiatic lion has been narrowly saved from extinction.
Though it is still a highly endangered species, statistics show that
if efforts are kept up, their numbers might begin to improve.
Leopard is considered to be one of the most beautiful and
graceful animals in the jungle, also the most dangerous one.
Popularly known as the Prince of Cats, this animal is the most
adaptable among the predators, one of the reasons why it occupies a
much larger spread of Gujarat forest cover. In the Gir National Park
it is found in all the varied habitats and vegetation types. The
approximate population of 210 Leopards resides within the sanctuary
Not leaving the water predators behind, Mash crocodiles are
often seen along the Kamleshwar Dam Site. Another major attraction
among the reptile population of Gir National Park are the numerous
non-venomous Snakes such as the Indian Rock Python along with the
four venomous varieties of Indian Cobra, Common Krait, Saw Scaled
Viper, Russell's Viper. Among the lesser-known wildlife of Gir
National Park includes the most common animal that can be sighted in
the sanctuary, the Chital or Spotted Deer. Other main wild
attractions are Nilgai, Chinkara, Sambhar, Black Bucks, the four
horned Antelope, Wild Boar, Indian Flying Foe, Grey Musk Shrew,
Indian Hare, Pale Hedgehog, Small Indian Mangoose, Small Indian
Civet, Indian Pangolin, Indian Porcupine, Ratel, Indian Fox, and
Jackal. The three smaller wildcats - the Jungle Cat, Desert Cat and
the Rusty Spotted Cat also inhabit the forest, a fact which shows
that the forest is not just meant for the protection of Lions, but
the entire cat family.
Jeep Safaris are an ideal way to travel inside the park, as the
uneven terrain of the park can be conveniently covered on a sturdy
vehicle. The park authorities permit you to take your own vehicle
inside the park but only with the addition of a park guide. Jeeps
can also be hired from the office at Sasan or from the tour
operators. Seats should be booked in advance for a ride on the mini
bus operated by the park administration. The safari timings are
06:30 to 09:30 Hrs. and 15.00 Hrs. to 17.00 Hrs.
The Little Rann of Kutch
The Rann of Kutch is a geographically unique landscape that was once
an arm of the Arabian Sea. As the land separated from the sea by
geological forces, it became a vast, featureless plain encrusted
with salt that is inundated with water during the rains. The
safari across the Little Rann visits the 'bets', islands on the
ancient seabed that are now higher grounds covered with grass and
scrub. These 'bets' support a variety of wildlife including the 'Gudkhur'
(Asiatic wild ass) that is not found elsewhere. The wild ass is a
handsome chestnut brown member of the equus genus (horse family).
Capable of reaching high speeds when galloping across the Rann, the
wild ass is usually seen in small herds.
The elegant blackbuck (Indian antelope), nilgai
or blue bull (India's largest antelope) and the graceful chinkara
(Indian gazelle) are other mammals seen at the bets.
The main carnivores of the Little Rann of Kutch
are the endangered Indian wolf, desert fox, Indian fox, jackals,
desert and jungle cats, and a few hyenas. Smaller mammals like
hares, gerbilles and hedgehogs, and reptiles like spiny tailed
lizard, monitor, red and common sand boa, saw-scaled viper, cobra,
dhaman (Indian rat snake), etc, could also be seen during the
safaris in the Rann. The rann can be covered by the cross-desert
safari in open vehicles.
With its small lakes and extensive fields, little Rann of Kutch
offers good birding. Grey and pond herons, egrets, pied and white-
breasted kingfishers, spotbill, nakta (comb duck), saras cranes and
other birds can be seen at the waterfront. The bushes are also rich
in birds and shikra hawks have been seen perched on the trees at the
resort. The resort is also a roosting spot for rosy pastor (rose-coloured
The trees also provide suitable nesting areas
for ibises, egrets and pond herons to breed. 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.