With diverse natural habitats, ranging from sea coasts to lakes to salt flats, from grasslands to deciduous forests, Gujarat is home to many endangered species of animals, big and small. Don’t forget, this is the only place in the world where you can see lions roaming in the wild outside Africa.
Gir National Park
Home to the Asiatic Lion, Gir National Park is one of the biggest attractions of Gujarat. This is the only place outside Africa where you can see lions in the wild. The national park includes forested hills, arid grasslands, scrub forests, etc. There are several streams, mostly seasonal, inside the forest. Apart from lions, Gir National Park is home to leopards, spotted deer, sambar, nearly 300 species of birds, etc. Water-birds and crocodiles are usually seen in the Kamaleshwar Dam area. The forest is open for tourists from Oct 16 to Jun 15. Winter is the best time to visit. For the Gir Jungle Trail, morning safari lasts from 6am 9am and from 9am to 12pm; evening safaris from 3pm to 6pm. For the Devalia Safari Park, closed on Wednesdays, the timings are 8am to 11am and 3pm to 5pm. You can book e-permits at girlion.in. Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (gujarattourism.com) operates a 4D/3N Saurashtra Darshan Tour, which includes Gir. Rajkot, with its airport and railway station, is 165km from Sasan Gir (as the town is known as). The nearest railway station is Junagad. A visit to Gir National Park can be combined with a trip to Somnath and Diu.
Wild Ass Sanctuary
The Rann (barren land) in Gujarat is divided into two — the Great Rann of Kutch (GRK) and the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK). Carved out of nearly 5,000 sq. km of the Little Rann of Kutch is the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. Locally known as the ‘ghudkhar’, these sturdy animals are usually found roaming the vast saline desert and the scrub forest, in herds. Apart from the Indian wild ass, the Rann is also home to nilai, chinkara, blackbucks, jackals, etc. A Ramsar Site, the Little Rann of Kutch is also known for its avian varieties, which increases manifold in winter, especially in the seasonal wetlands. A vehicle safari is the best way to go wildlife viewing here. But in this vast plain land, virtually devoid of any landmark, you will need the services of someone who knows the area as well. The resort where you are staying can usually arrange for such safaris (on separate payment). Ahmedabad (130km by road from the sanctuary) and Rajkot (175km away) are most convenient airport and railway stations. The sanctuary has three main entry points: Dhrangadhra, Range Bajana, and Range Aadeshwar. Most of the resorts are accessible from Dhrandgadhra.
Marine National Park
The 458 sq km of Marine Wildlife Sanctuary (created in 1980), is an archipelago of 42 tropical islands along the northern coast of Jamnagar district. The 162 sq.km Marine National Park (created in 1982) is part of the sanctuary. As the sanctuary lies in the inter-tidal zone, it is convenient to observe the marine habitat, including saline grasslands, mudflats, coral reefs, and mangroves. Some fo the commonly seen marine animals here are giant sea anemone, sponges, starfish sea cucumber, octopus, puffer fish, sea urchins, etc. Pirotan and a few other islands are known for their coral reefs. The mangroves shelter a variety of birds too. The Marine Sanctuary and National Park is accessible from Jamnagar. Usually boats ply to and from Bedi and Nava ports here. However, you need to obtain prior permission and pay a fee to enter the sanctuary and park. Contact: Conservator of Forest Office, Tel: 0288 2679355, Nagnath Gate, Van Sankul, Ganjiwada, Jamnagar.
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary
Around 60 km from Ahmedabad, Nal Sarovar consists of a large waterbody surrounded by reed beds. When the water level is low, you will find many islets dotting the lake. During winter, the lake is home to many migratory birds, especially flamingos. The sanctuary is open from 6am to 6pm. Best time to visit is early morning or late afternoon. Entry and boat tickets re available from the sanctuary counter. But there are also private boat operators who offer longer rides in the lake but there have been complaints about high charges. Public holidays and winter weekends draw a huge crowd and hence best avoided. The bird sanctuary can be combined with a trip to Lothal. For more details, contact: Deputy Conservator of Forests, Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, near Mamlatdar office, Sanand-382110, Gujarat; tel: 079 223500.
Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in the Narmada district of Gujarat, this lesser known sanctuary is also one of the state’s prettiest. With the Rajpipla Hills in the background, the sanctuary serves as a major watershed between the Sardar Sarovar and the Karjan reservoirs. The original Shiva temple from which the sanctuary takes its name got submerged in the Sardar Sarovar reservoir. The forest shelters sloth bear, leopard, rhesus macaque, common mongoose, Indian civet cat, Indian porcupine, four-horned antelope, barking deer, chital, pangolin, flying squirrel, python, snakes, lizards, tortoise etc. The forest is a good place to study raptors, according to expert birders. Trekkers can visit the Zarwani Waterfalls, especially in the monsoon. Vadodara is the nearest airport. Bharuch is the nearest railway station and convenient road transport hub. For sanctuary and waterfalls visit permits and other details, contact: Deputy Conservator of Forests, Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, Narmada Forest Division, Rajpipla, Gujarat; tel: 02640 220013.