Gir Forest area of Gujarat is state’s most popular national park and wildlife sanctuary. It is Asia’s only region providing natural habitat to Asiatic lions. But, did you know that state of Gujarat also has three other wildlife sanctuaries. Jessore Sloth bear, Balaram-Ambaji wildlife sanctuaries and Thol bird sanctuary in Gujarat have been instrumental in conserving lesser known wildlife species.
Jessore Sloth bear wildlife sanctuary provides protection to Sloth bears and their habitat. It was our first destination during our nature camp to Gujarat. We also visited Balaram-Ambaji Wildlife sanctuary and Thol Bird Sanctuary. These are accessible from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar as well. Despite of being in the same state – Gujarat and located not very far from each other, all three Sanctuaries have their own characteristics and landscapes. Jessore and Balaram Ambaji wildlife sanctuaries are located on the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan states. Both of them act as a barricade protecting the land of Gujarat from getting covered by the sand from Rajasthan.
Our train reached Ahmedabad early in the morning but we reached Jessore in the afternoon as we spent some time on small lakes that are present on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Jessore is in Banaskantha district. Evening is a good time to go for trail in the forest. The exotic and invasive species Prosopis juliflora is in abundance at Jessore along with few indigenous plants species such as ber, acacias etc. We could not see the sloth bear but saw droppings and scratch marks made by bears (while climbing the tree). We sighted Sambar deer, wild boar and mongoose during the trail. Also, we spotted reptiles including monitor lizard and skink. Jessore has a huge lake which attracts water birds. One can even see good number of land/scrub forest birds here.
The wife of the caretaker prepared food for us during our one night stay at Jessore and no need to say, it was yummy.
Next day early morning we left for Balaram-Ambaji wildlife sanctuary. On the way one can feel the noticeable difference in the vegetation. Balaram ambaji sanctuary shows a growth of big indigenous trees such as palash, mahua, beleric myrobalan etc. but, Prosopis juliflora still occurs. The staff of the forest department in Ambaji range was very helpful. Couple of them joined us for the forest trail. We started our walk little late in morning. Still we could see some forest birds and mammals like – Neelgai, Wild boar, Hanuman langur and three stripped palm squirrel. It was refreshing experience to walk in forest. We also saw a forest calotes. After having an interaction with Regional Forest Office, Ambaji (which was very informative) we left for Balaram range.
Balaram temple is very near to sanctuary and many devotees visit here to offer their prayers. One thing really important – there are no restaurants/dhabas nearby. So one should carry the lunch or eat whatever snacks available on the small stalls here. We choose the second option as we had heavy breakfast in the morning. After this we went for stroll in forest. The forest department staff here was very kind and helpful too. The discussion between Forest Department and us was really interesting one and gave us lot of information.
Here we got to see one interesting phenomenon. This forest has only two rhesus macaques. The wildlife conservation team rescued and released them in this sanctuary long time back. These macaques stay with a group of Hanuman langurs. It was really intriguing for me. I haven’t heard of any macaque staying with Langurs before. (If anyone has any records of such associations/s then please feel free to share). Here too the staff of Forest department accompanied us and gave us some valuable information about its biodiversity.
Thol Bird Sanctuary
Then we continued our journey towards Thol Bird Sanctuary. We opted to stay in Kalol which is about at 45mins driving distance from Thol. Next day early morning we visited Thol bird sanctuary.
Thol is an amazing wetland. We got busy in clicking bird photographs before actually entering the official boundary of the sanctuary. Painted storks, egrets, spoon bills etc were busy in having their morning breakfast just outside the sanctuary. When we started walking along the lake we could see lots of birds. It was like a collage of different bird species placed in one lake. One can spend hours and hours observing, photographing and documenting the various bird species that use this lake. Majority of them are listed under either ‘Near-threatened, ‘Threatened’, ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Endangered’ status of IUCN’s Red list. Almost all of them are schedule one or two species as per the government of India’s rule.
This lake is also a nesting site for many birds and Saras Cranes are one of them. In fact some of us were lucky to see the courtship dance of Saras Cranes and I was one of those. It was something that I will remember throughout my life and feel blessed to witness such a wonderful creation of nature.
The memories are too many and I can go on and on… But, no matter how much I describe here it will not do the justice to the beauty of this place. One must visit to experience!
Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence – http://oikoessence.blogspot.in/