Animals are beautiful people! If you are a wildlife lover and have seen the movie titled the same, you’d agree with us that there couldn’t have been a better description. If you haven’t, then we suggest you must. Animals are indeed beautiful in their own unique way, especially if living free in their own natural habitat. There is a certain thrill and charm, witnessing these creatures of the wild going about their daily business like it’s nobody’s business. To live among them and watch them up close and personal can be the most memorable experience. Watching a tigress and her cubs slowly cross your path, a lion lazing under a tree, a bison staring at you with its unquestioning eyes, a bunch of hyenas giggling like girls and scavenging over a leftover carcass, Startling a deer even with a snap of a twig, a lioness making a fresh kill, a leopard easily lounging on a tree trunk, a herd of elephants playing in the water, wild monkeys chattering on a tree; there is no end to things in the wild that can captivate our senses if we choose to see them.
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But, there’s more to a wildlife sanctuary, than just watching and photographing wild animals for the thrills. Protected enclosures for these animals aren’t simply to separate them from others but to ensure their very existence. For most of the species that have been mentioned below are on the brink of extinction. What a tragedy for the human race it would be to know that their indifference or greed caused these animals to completely vanish from the globe. So, the next time you visit a wildlife reserve must make a point to acknowledge the purpose of its existence and accord it the credit it deserves.
So, here’s a list of wildlife sanctuaries that have come a long way from just protecting its denizens to creating new world records all the way.
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
The most famous of all the Indian National Parks and rightly so, not just because of the legend that it is named after but for its intriguing denizens of the wild and its mesmerizing landscapes. It is not just the first ever national park in India but also in the whole of Asia. At the outset, the area was the private property of the Kings of Tehri Garhwal. The region of Garhwal was then captured by the Gorkhas in 1804 only to be reclaimed by the British twelve years later in 1920. The British used the forest for teak and timber. Come the 19th century, there arose an awareness to preserve the wildlife and the forest which resulted in the area being declared a Reserved Forest in 1879. It was declared to be a National Park under the governorship of Sir Malcolm Hailey in 1935 and was named Hailey National Park. Post-independence, it was renamed Ramganga National Park and then again changed to Jim Corbett National Park in 1956 as a tribute to his contributions in the area.
The Corbett National Park has the glory of being India’s first Tiger Reserve thereby becoming the beacon of Tiger protection in India. The entire Tiger Reserve is spread over an area of 1318 square kilometre of which the core area comprises of 520 sq kms. The National Park is divided into four zones of which Dhikhala is the most popular for Tiger sightings, closely followed by the Bijrani Zone. Needless to say, that the mighty Royal Bengal Tiger is the chief resident of the reserve not to mention the great Asiatic Elephants. The area is also home to Asiatic Black Bear, Sloth bear, Barking deer, Hog Deer, Sambar, Ghariyal crocodiles, the King Cobra among others. There are about 650 endangered species of birds, of which 50 belong to the Raptor group viz. the birds of prey like eagles, vultures, kites, hawks et al. Coming to the fauna, about 75 percent of the forest cover is Sal along with 600 species of plants.
This mixed terrain of hills, plains and grasslands are best explored by a Jeep or on the back of an Elephant. The best time to visit Corbett is Mid-November to Mid-June.
Gir Forest National Park And Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat
If you are looking to spot lions in their natural habitat anywhere in Asia, then the Sasan Gir or the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat is the place for you. Unfortunately for the Asiatic lions and fortunately for us, Sasan Gir, is the last place to preserve the endangered Asiatic lions. Spread over an area of 1412 sq kms, the wildlife sanctuary was established in 1965 and later declared a National Park in 1975. There are currently 650 counts of Asiatic Lions in Gir Sasan and its periphery according to the last governmental census. Why exactly is this a great number, if you are wondering, then all you’d need to do is to compare the figures with the odd “12” number of lions left in the 1880’s. Yes! 12, period.
If we delve into the history of the area, the premises of the park were once a part of the private hunting grounds of the Nawab of Junagarh. Needless to say, the king of the jungle fell prey to the trophy hunters and big game hunters among the Indian Royalty and the British. Alarmed and thankfully awakened by the dwindling numbers of the Lions, the British took steps to ban the killing of the lions with the assistance of Nawab Muhhamed Mahabat Khan of Junagarh. Post-Independence, with the British gone, the Indian Royalty yet again began to hunt the Lions for sport, only to be stopped with the intervention from the Government in 1965 when the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary.
The national park is not only home to the endangered Asiatic lions but also has a sizeable leopard population. The striped hyena, golden jackal, honey badgers, Ruddy Mongoose, civet cats and a variety of deer are also found in the area. The water bodies inside Gir have a considerable amount of crocodiles as well. There are about 300 species of birds residing in the park of which 6 belong to the scavenging species of vultures.
The only way to discover the inhabitants of the National Park is through the jeep safaris. The National park is open to visitors throughout the year except during the months of monsoon from June to October. The best time to visit is between the months of December to March. The months of April and May are very hot but have a higher rate of wildlife sightings.
Hemis National Park, Leh, Jammu & Kashmir
How far or rather how high would you go to sight a wild animal in its natural habitat? How about something like between 3000 to 6000 metres above sea level? Well, if you are a wildlife enthusiast, then “ain’t no mountain high”, when it’s the elusive snow leopard is what you are looking to find. Also known as the Hemis High Altitude National Park and spread over an area of 4400 sq kms, it is not only the largest National Park in India but also the largest in South Asia. It is named after the 400 years old Hemis Monastery which is located within its premises. The monastery was once a part of the Silk route to Tibet. The National park also contains within its premises six villages and a number of Tibetan Gompas and Holy Chortens. Unlike the typical jungle safari, this park is a series of undulating peaks, rugged valleys with vast meadows, rocky terrains with hints of pine forests, alpine shrubs and grasslands. The varied landscapes and the expansive geography; viz. the banks of the river Indus to its north, some parts of the Zanskar range, and the catchment of Sumdah, Markah and Rumbak make the national park stand apart from the other wildlife reserves. The Hemis National Park boasts of 200 counts of Snow Leopards (the highest density of them in any protected area in the world). The other mountain animals like the Argiail (Great Tibetan Sheep), Bharal (Blue Sheep), Shapu (Ladakhi Urial), Asiatic Ibex, The Tibetan Wolf, the Eurasian brown bear, the Red Fox and many other small mammals are found here. There are a variety of birds of prey from the eagle and vulture family like the golden eagle, the lammergeier Vulture, the Himalayan griffon vulture etc., not to mention many other Tibetan bird species. There are about 16 mammal species and 73 birds known to exist in the park so far.
The park offers the most up close and upfront experience of the wild through its trekking safaris. There are jeep safaris available as well if trekking and camping in the wild is not your cup of tea. But there is only so much that a motorable road can cover as compared to the trekking trails. There are no hotels nearby but staying in the homestays in the six villages within the park and rooms in the Hemis monastery are an experience in themselves. The best time to travel to the Hemis National Park is from mid-June to mid-October
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
The world’s largest concentration of the great one-horned Rhinoceroses is right here at Kaziranga. There are about 2413 Rhinoceros at the Kaziranga National Park as per the consensus of 2018. Isn’t that a great leap from just about 75 of them in the year 1905. For years these mighty beasts were hunted for game and poached for their horns. Hence the numbers began to dwindle. But just in time, before it was too late for this specie in Kaziranga, fortune seemed to favour their kind. In the year 1904, when Lady Mary Curzon, the wife of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon visited the area, she was unable to spot a single Rhinoceros. Flabbergasted and alarmed at the inputs by the locals, she then persuaded her husband, the then viceroy of India to take steps to prevent the further decimation of whatever was left of the one-horned Rhinoceros. Thus, came into existence the Kaziranga Proposed Wildlife Sanctuary on June 1st, 1905. It was then declared a reserved forest in 1908, then the Kaziranga Game Sanctuary in 1916 till 1938. In the year 1950, the Kaziranga Game Sanctuary was renamed Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary and finally Kaziranga National Park in 1958. It has been a long journey for the National Park not just from the meagre 75 Rhinos in 1905 to 2400, but also the progression of the area of 232 square kilometres to 430 square kilometres.
Apart from the Rhinos, the national park also has the highest density of Tigers in a protected area, in the world and was thus declared a Tiger reserve in 2006. The park is situated on the banks of River Brahmaputra and consists of marshlands, swamplands and the widest stretch of Elephant Grass. So, there’s greenery everywhere and the little water bodies here and there are rife with beautiful aquatic blooms like Lotus. The area is also the ideal breeding grounds for Elephants, Water Buffaloes, Swamp deer, and Jungle cats. Kaziranga also holds the record of having the highest number of water buffaloes in the world, approximately, 57% of the world population. There are about 14 different primate species and the endangered Ganges Dolphins. The rich biodiversity of the region attracts about 478 species of birds, both migratory and resident which also include quite a few endangered species.
Well, quite the record maker we say! Elephant and Jeep Safari are both available.The best time to visit Kaziranga National Park is from November to April. The park remains closed from June to September owing to the heavy monsoons in Assam.
Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal
A park known to donne many hats; yes, it is a National Park, a Tiger Reserve, and a Biosphere reserve at the same time. Not to mention, also a World Heritage site. The Sundarbans Forest is the largest estuarine forest in the world and has a very dense coverage of mangrove forests. The name Sundarbans has been inspired from the Sundari trees which are abundantly present in the area. The mangroves are home to the Royal Bengal Tigers, who have, in this region, in particular, developed a taste for swimming and man-eating alike. Though the Sundarban Tigers have been known to clash with the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, sufficient measures have been taken by the Government to curb such incidents. This in no way deters the tourists from coming to the area to experience the most unique bio-diversity of the region. It is one of the largest reserves for the Royal Bengal Tiger (read 400 or so) and was declared one in the year 1973. Soon after in 1977, it was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and it became a National Park in 1984. Spread over an area of 1330 sq kms, the Sundarbans National Park is home to large variety of animals and birds including endangered species like the saltwater crocodile, Ganges River Dolphin, Olive Ridley Turtles, River Terrapin, Hawksbill Turtle, and Mangrove horseshoe crab. There are about 30000 spotted-dear in the area besides Jungle fowls, Giant Lizards, and Siberian ducks and a large variety of many other birds. The mudflats and sandbanks of the Sunderbans are also home to some 62 species of birds including both resident and migratory birds. As there is water all around, it leaves no scope for elephant and Jeep Safaris. Boat safaris are the only way to explore the National Park. The best time to visit is from September to March. This jungle experience is unlike any other safari you can opt for.
Amazed at what a little patch of forest can do? You must go for yourself and check it out, especially if all you have seen yet is a zoo! It’s a whole new world out there, a whole new way of existence. Animals and birds alike are as much of a part of our ecosystem as we are. But hey forget all the serious stuff, we just dare you to go and spend some time in a place where the creatures of the wild are not locked up in a cage!