India: Home to 551 Wild-Life Sanctuaries and National Parks!
A glorious variety of flora and fauna makes India’s verdant forests gems of biodiversity! They are home to 3500 varieties of mammals and 30,000 types of insects. More than 35000 kinds of trees and creepers make the landscapes of India unique in the world! From the Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas to the spice-fragrant forests of Periyar in Kerala, visitors are literally treated to a ‘taste of heaven’ which they can never forget!
By Vimla Patil
Leaving the spice markets of Cochin behind, the winding road goes up into the Nilgiri Hills of Kerala. All along the route to the Periyar Sanctuary, the air is fragrant with the smell of cloves and cardamoms. And finally, after a joyful drive of a few hours, you arrive at one of the most sylvan and beautiful landscapes of India: The Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary.
As you sip your cup of tea at Aranya Niwas, the guesthouse overlooking the huge lake with stumps of trees sticking out of it, you see exciting movements among the clumps of trees on the shore. A herd of wild elephants slowly comes to the water and enjoys the patch of sunshine among the thickets. These regal-looking elephants are but one example of the wild life scenario of India. Official figures say that.
India is home to more than 35000 wild Asiatic elephants who live in what is known as the ‘elephant corridor of India’ stretching from Kerala and going through Karnataka, Andhra, Orissa, Bengal, Assam and then onto Burma and Thailand, where the King of Siam is reported to possess the largest number of white elephants which are his royal insignia. All these states and countries venerate the elephant as a symbol of power, prosperity and good fortune. Like the Periyar, Bandipur, Madumalai and several other sanctuaries along these southern states are home to thousands of elephants which live in herds along the rivers that crisscross the landscape.
Elephants, protected by the people of India are but one spectrum of the brilliant wild life scenario of India. Though many people wring their hands in grief at the depleting numbers of tigers, lions and other magnificent wild life species, India still remains home to one of the largest treasure of wild animals, birds and insects in the world. There are a total of 551 sanctuaries and national parks spread over the vast sub-continent. Among these 28 are designated Project Tiger forests, a national programme initiated by Indira Gandhi to protect and increase the number of tigers in India. There are now around 1400 tigers in these reserves. The rest of the sanctuaries are home to other animals, birds and insects and also to a vast number of flowering trees.
The first sanctuary to be set up under the Indian Government’s wild life protection programme was the Corbet National Park in the Himalayas. In the following six decades, hundreds have been set up to save animals and their habitats. A few among these forests are considered the most important. For instance, the Sasan Gir Forest in Gujarat is the only home of the Asiatic Lion and has hundreds of this majestic species. Carefully nurtured, the lion population of the forest is slowly increasing and this is a matter of pride to the state government. Set near to the heritage temple of Somnath on the Arabian Sea, the Gir Sanctuary attracts tourists the year round.
Similarly, the tiger habitats like Corbet, Ranthambhore, Kanha, Sundarbans, Bandhavgarh, Bandipur and Nagarhole among others, offer safaris to see the national animal of India in its pristine glory. In recent years, many Save The Tiger campaigns supported by television channels, corporate groups and publicized by celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, have brought into focus the need to nurture the tiger population of India and to see that the mafia of illegal mining or poaching does not harm national interests. The experience of visiting a tiger reserve is unique and unforgettable. In Ranthambhore for instance, one sits in the royal pavilion, watching the water bodies where tigers come to quench their thirst. It is also possible to ride into the deep jungle paths in the forest department’s jeeps to cruise around the forest to sight groups of tigers resting in the shade of trees. Ranthambhore has been in the eye of publicity because of the work of several NGOs working to resettle the tribals and village folks encroaching into the tigers’ habitat and causing the tigers to become aggressive beasts.
The sanctuary is also known for the phenomenal work done by Fateh Singh Rathore, an expert on tiger conservation. Tiger sightings are also possible in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Sunderbans and other sanctuaries. Near Ranthambhore, is the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary which is visited by hordes of Siberian cranes as well as indigenous water birds. It offers unique breeding alcoves to all variety of birds from all over the western states. The Indian Government has a vast network of forest service officials and staff who continuously monitor the forests and animal and bird habitats to ensure that they are saved from poachers, timber hackers and land encroachments.
The Nilgiri Hills running down the centre of the Indian peninsula also have several parks and sanctuaries where leopards, neelgai and barasinghas, deer, foxes, jackals and smaller animals reside. In this region are other forests like Mudumalai, Bandipur and Ranganathittu, the last being a bird sanctuary.
Apart from the vast treasure of wild life, some national parks are home to wonderful insects. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is the world’s only forest set in the heart of a bustling metro city like Mumbai, for instance, has more than 36 varieties of the most exquisite butterflies. The forest also is a literal ‘valley of flowers’ just after the monsoon season. Similarly, in the foothills of Sikkim, the Singalila National Park is a sweeping vision of beauty when the rhododendrons create a veritable carpet of myriad colours. So also, the Kaas Valley in Maharashtra is a mini Valley of Flowers just after the Monsoons.
The richness and diversity of India’s tropical forests and the huge variety of animals and birds that live in them is unequalled anywhere in the world. A large number of safaris and tours are offered to see the various parks and reserves. Every one of these offers a fabulous experience because of the sheer variety of wild life and the certain visibility in most forests. Because of the scarcity of water bodies which fill only in the rainy monsoon months, animals usually come to the waterholes and are visible to tourists, especially in the winter months. Many safari packages are thus extraordinary and unique and offer true value for money. From Ladakh in the Himalayas to the tip of India at Kanyakumari, the huge number of wild life habitats and national parks attract millions of tourists from all over the world and often see the rarest of rare species which are a photographer’s delight.
Most wild life enthusiasts agree that the range and variety of India’s wildlife heritage is truly unmatched anywhere in the world. Even remote islands like the Andaman and Nicobar are home to 250 species of exotic birds – including the rare Nardondum horn bill, Nicobar pigeon and the megapode. In most forests, tourists can choose to go around in an open jeep but for an unforgettable experience, wherever possible, they can go on an elephant safari to see the forest and its denizens from an exotic vantage point.
To sum up, the 110 national parks of India offer the most unimaginable variety of flowering trees, plants and streams which have sparkling waters cascading down the mountains. They also have species of animals and birds which are unique to India. The 441 wild life sanctuaries and national parks form nearly 4.5 per cent of total geographical area of India. Strewn across the country, these wonderful forests and parks offer amazing landscapes, rock formations with multi-coloured layers, diverse flora and a magnificent variety of animals, insects and birds.
Film makers and photographers all over the world have found inspiration in the wild life reserves of India. Famous film maker Mike Pandey won the prestigious Green Oscar for his film on Whale Shark killings in Gujarat. This film caused the Government of India to pass legislation to ban the killing of the Whale Sharks on Indianshores.
The Whale Shark was declared as a protected species under the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972, bringing it at par with the tigers and the Rhinos.
(See http://youtu.be/4_eZdacUkIg- Journey of Whale Shark then & now (Part-1) – Wildlife Trust of India.
Pandey also made an impactful film called The Last Migration – Elephants, which drew the attention of the government to the need to protect elephants in India. World renowned photographers and film makers continue to come to these forests and parks to create unique films and images that help to create an awareness of the need for conservation of wild life in the subcontinent. Krishnendu Bose’s film Elephant: God or Animal has also won great acclaim.
To enhance these efforts, communities are rediscovering the folk dances and music of every state which feature masks of tigers and other animals. Such dances and performances are part of the culture of many states and communities. For instance, in Kerala, tiger dances are a great celebration!
It is said that most of these parks and sanctuaries were created and maintained by the former Rajas, Maharajas and Nizams who ruled the many princely states of India before Independence made the subcontinent into one nation – the Union of India. Today, these forests and parks belong to the more than one billion citizens of India and they are beginning to fight for the conservation of not only the jungles but also their magnificent inhabitants.
Did you know?
Animals Are A Sacred Part Of Our Universe
Every civilization looks at animals, birds and sea creatures in its own special way. In India, generations over the millenniums have seen all species as their friends and partners with whom they share the earth. They have been presented in beautiful forms in paintings and sculptures as companions of deities, as symbols of power and beauty or simply as decorative embellishments.
“The Romans saw animals as fierce creatures which had to be killed or controlled for human survival. The Greeks saw them as symbols of power living in a separate world of their own. But ancient Indians saw them as they should be seen – friendly, loyal and graceful.” says Dr. Kumud Kanitkar, who has conducted an exhaustive study of animal sculptures and motifs in Indian culture, “Animals have not undergone any major changes in their shapes or bahaviour, but their perception by human beings has changed from age to age. The depictions of animals, birds and sea creatures in sculptures, paintings and arts like dance and fabric printing as well as architecture are expressions of human imagination and are often used as religious symbols of power, grace, beauty, dignity, opulence and wisdom.”
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