One of India’s largest mangrove ecosystems, second only to the Sunderbans, Bhitarkanika in Odisha boasts of rich biodiversity. Abundant in both flora and fauna, this ecosystem holds the world’s second largest floral ecosystem, after Papua New Guinea. Essentially a network of canals and creeks, Bhitarkanika is inundated by the Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra and Patasala rivers.
The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to the largest number of estuarine crocodiles—over 1,600 of them—in the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, the Guinness World Record- winning male crocodile—23 feet and weighing over 2,000 kilograms— also called this sanctuary home. These salt water crocodiles are the region’s apex predators.
But crocodiles aren’t this ecosystem’s only draw. Spotted deer, hyenas, and wild boar roam the mangroves andthe biodiversity is also a winter home for over 170 migratory bird species. Mating season is a show in colour at Bhitarkanika, with heronry, and multiple varieties of Kingfisher birds, and others, filling the skies with dancing hues and aerial acrobatics. Convenient eco-stays are aplenty in and around the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Dangamal and Habalikhati.
Aside from the incredible experience of birding, a trip to Bhitarkanika also demands a boating endeavour. You can traverse the creeks of the ‘Mini Amazon of India’, where you will be enveloped by the dense mangrove forests and wetlands. The protected area houses over ninety varieties of mangroves. These forests play a crucial role in protecting the residents of the hinterlands from natural calamities.
In a place where woodland dominate the area, Bhitarkanika’s beaches still manage to offer enticing views. Catch a glance of bottle-nose dolphins, finless porpoise dolphins and Irrawady dolphins from the coasts at Pentha beach, Habalikhati beach and Gahirmatha beach. Gahirmatha beach is known as the world’s largest mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles. Millions of turtles migrate across the South Pacific to scuttle up the shores in mating season.
Neighbouring Bhitarnika is Gahirmatha sanctuary, the only marine sanctuary of the state. It is internationally well-known as one of the most prominent rookeries for Olive Ridley turtles. It was declared a turtle sanctuary in 1997 as the state government recognized its importance in attempts to save the turtles. Despite the emphasis on turtles, other animals including wild boars, barking deer, bears, leopards, sambars, wild dogs and crocodile also lend remarkable views in the sanctuary.
See odishatourism.gov.in for more.
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