Wildlife Of Rajasthan
Rajasthan, the land of kings, is the home to grand forts, exquisite architecture (Read more of my earlier posts on Rajasthan’s havelis, temples, stepwells and palaces here), sumptuous food and fine handicrafts.
It also has a diverse landscape with arid desert, mountain ranges of Aravali and Vindhyas, marshy swamps and lakes. The terrain thus allows as much diverse flora and a variety of wildlife in Rajasthan. The desert is home to black bucks(Yes, the same ones that film actor Salman Khan hunted), though they are dangerously low in number, camels, monitor lizards, foxes etc, the swampy marshlands at Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, Bharatpur teems with migratory birds of all shapes and sizes. Around the river banks of mighty Chambal one could also find ghariyal, Indian alligator.
And then there are of course the big cats leopards and tigers!
I was in Rajasthan recently for exploring the wildlife in its natural habitat. Though the best time to see the animals is during peak summers, I was somewhat late. Nevertheless I embarked on jeep safaris to have a glimpse of forests and its denizens. I must say that I was not disappointed. From Indian sloth bears to wild hare, monitor lizards to crocodiles, neelgai, spotted deers, langurs, dancing peacocks, jackals to big wild cats, I saw them all.
The key is ample patience though. Wild animals are shy of human beings and almost always tend to avoid roads and human activity in the forests. More the noise, less is the chance to spot birds and animals, as simple as that ! I was quite lucky that the jeep drivers at each of the safaris I took were extremely knowledgeable and pointed out different birds and animals. I was able to spot such a variety of wildlife.
It is sad however, that tourists associate forest safaris only with the tigers and leopards and find it a waste of time and money if the wild cats do not make an appearance. Forests are more than that!! There’s so much more to see which is impossible in an urban landscape.
It is only when we go with an open mind, will the forest open its heart for us. There is always an adventure waiting in the forest.
Here are some of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries of Rajasthan that must be on the list of wildlife enthusiasts:
Ranthambore National Park
The most popular national park when it comes to tiger sightings, Ranthambore National Park , in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan is the biggest National Park in northern parts of the country spanning an area of 1334 square kilometers. It lies between Banas river in north and Chambal river in south. The ramparts of the 10th century Ranthambore fort are within the expanse of the reserved forest area which has deciduous trees and grassy plains.
Established as Sawai Madhopur Game Sanctuary in 1955, it was allocated with the National park status in November 1980. With villagers becoming aware of tourism and its benefits, the poaching has been curbed effectively resulting in thriving numbers of tigers. The current population of tigers is estimated to be 80 including the cubs.
The grand dame tigress ‘Machhali’ was the most popular Bengal Tiger of Ranthambore park. She was the most photographed majestic cat who ruled the forest for 19 years. Machhali died in 2016 leaving her mark on the wildlife photographers across the world. Her lineage survives in two of her female cubs and their offsprings.
It was at Ranthambore National Park that I saw tigers in their natural habitat for the first time. The park also is home to Indian sloth bears, wild boars, Neelgai, spotted deer, barasinga, leopards, mongoose etc along with many colorful birds.
Sariska National Park
The 881 km2 Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar, Rajasthan comprises of scrub-thorn arid and deciduous forest, grasslands and rocky hills. A hunting preserve for the king of Alwar became a wildlife sanctuary in 1958 and was declared a national park in 1982.
Sariska is the first forest reserve in the world with successfully relocated tigers. However due to human settlements deep inside the forests, the big cats are much shy than the tigers of Ranthambore. There are somewhere close to 20 tigers in the forest area besides golden jackal, deer, leopards and birds.
On the jeep safari in Sariska, I could see the tiger through the bushes but it was difficult to photograph. I kept waiting for good couple of hours but the tiger was more patient than I was. He kept sitting on the rock stubbornly due to the noise of jeeps.
Jhalana Leopard Reserve
This reserve forest is the first Leopard sanctuary in India and is spread on 23 km2 area with a population of 30-35 leopards. Nestled between Aravalli range, Jhalana is in south-eastern part of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.
The dry deciduous forest is also home to striped hyenas, deer, fox, rusty spotted cat, neelgai etc. The spiny animal porcupine can also be spotted sometimes.
Amagarh Leopard Reserve
This is a relatively new reserved and smaller area developed as the second leopard sanctuary of India in 2020. Spread of some 1500 hectares, it is separated from the Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary by National Highway 11 and some human settlements.
Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary
Keoladeo National Park(Read my previous post here) also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to 366 bird species, especially during the winter season and around nesting period in September.
Previously a waterfowl hunting ground of royalty, Keoladeo National Park is a man-made wetland which was declared as a national park in March 1982. The 29km2 reserve is a mix of dry grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps and wetlands. Such diverse landscape allows about 50 species of fish, 13 kinds of snakes,amphibians, reptiles and more.
It was last year during my visit in September that I spotted a great number of birds nesting on tree tops from black headed Ibis to Painted Storks, owls, Siberian cranes etc. The entire wetland was teeming with birds, bats and greenery that made it resemble any coastal town.
National Chambal Ghariyal Wildlife Sanctuary
The National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary, is a 5400 km2 along the River Chambal in northern India is protected area by three Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh for the protection of the endangered ghriyal, red crowned roof turtle and dolphins. The narrow eco-reserve was first declared in Madhya Pradesh in 1978 co-administered by the three states.
As Palighat, Rajasthan, the Ghariyal sanctuary gears up for more boat rides for tourists, a boat took me deep down the river to the hatching site of endangered Ghariyal. Hundreds of Ghariyal babies sit along the banks sunning themselves as the adult female hides in the river hunting for food. It is however the law of nature that the fittest of them would survive. As the monsoon season approaches, the ghariyals move up on the drier land mass along the river. Some are washed away and perish as river fills up with rain water. Ones that fight off nature grow up to adult age.
It is indeed a sight to watch baby ghariyal sitting along the river bank.
Do’s and Don’ts At Wildlife Safari:
- Book safaris beforehand online from forest department website for confirmed slot.
- Take drinking water, binoculars and without flash cameras in the forest.
- Take your scarves and caps while on safaris.
- Do not get down from jeeps and canters in forest.
- Drone photography is prohibited.
- Do not make noise or the animals and birds will hide in the bushes.
- Do not feed deer and monkeys.
The wildlife safaris are paused for about two months during monsoons. The National Parks re-open around October.
My trip to explore wildlife of Rajasthan was in collaboration with Rajasthan Tourism Department. The pictures, experiences and opinions are mine.