When an entire week is observed as Wildlife Week, there are infinite possibilities to celebrate it. First observed in 1957, the week is celebrated with the vision of preserving the flora and fauna of our country. For this year's Wildlife Week, we bring you those national parks and biosphere reserves that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While every inch of the planet and all its areas of pristine wilderness need to be revered and conserved, we illustrate these heritage sites as their symbolic representations. Here’s Keoladeo National Park, to begin with.
Second in the series is the sublime Kaziranga National Park in Assam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceros and the highest density of tigers among the world’s protected areas, Kaziranga is a breathtaking expanse of marshland, tall elephant grass and tropical moist broadleaf forests, dotted by several small water-bodies.
Third, in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is the biosphere reserve in Sikkim – Khangchendzonga National Park. Named after the mountain Kangchenjunga, this national park is the first ‘Mixed Heritage’ site of India and was included in the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. Comprising temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, Apline grasses and shrubs, the park also hosts a wide range of mammals and about 550 species of birds.
Fourth in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is the Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh. It is at the junction of the Indomalayan real and the Palearctic realm. Its relatively undisturbed habitats and wide altitude range has made it home to over 375 fauna species and a vast diversity of flora. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on the criteria, ‘outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation’.
Fifth in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is the ever-mystical, sublime Sundarbans National Park, part of the Sundarbans. Comprising dense mangrove forests, this delta shelters a variety of birds, invertebrate species and reptiles in its 54 small islands, intersected by many distributaries of the Ganga. It is known to be geomorphologically and hydrologically complex.
One of the largest reserves for the tiger, the Sundarbans is also home to the salt-water crocodile. Also a Ramsar site, this national park is also considered a World Network of Biosphere Reserve (Man and Biosphere Reserve).
Sixth in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India are Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, nestled snugly high in West Himalaya. Popular for sprawling, lush meadows of endemic alpine flowers, these parks nurture rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic black bear, brown bear, snow leopard, and blue sheep. The rich diversity in the very landscape and the flora inspires mountaineers, botanists, wildlife enthusiasts and researchers explore this part of the Himalaya. The breathtaking gentle beauty of the Valley of Flowers National Park and strikingly contrasting stunning uneven mountainous wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park constitute a unique blend of natural beauty.
Seventh in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is the largest protected forest area of India, the tropical forest biome of rich biodiversity – Nigiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR). Spread across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, this International Biosphere Reserve whose name means ‘blue mountains’ is located within the Western Ghats system.
Comprising unique and threatened ecosystems ranging from rainforests, tropical montane forests, grasslands, moist deciduous, scrub, dry deciduous forest systems, the NBR shelters more than 100 mammal species (including tiger, elephant, gaur, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri tahr and barking deer), about 3,500 flowering plant species (of which 1,500 are endemic to the Western Ghats), about 550 bird species, about 300 butterflies, over 30 species of reptiles and amphibians. There is a host of more species that are perhaps yet to be discovered.
Eighth in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. Comprising alluvial grasslands and tropical forests, located in Assam, Manas is sequestered on a slope in the Himalayan foothills. It is home to several rare, endemic and endangered species like the Assam roofed turtle, wild water buffalo, golden langur, pygmy hog and hispid hare. Tiger, elephant, gaur and Indian rhino also roam the mystical depths of this national park among many other mammals. The largest population of the endangered Bengal florican is also known to be found here, among more than 450 bird species it hosts. About 50 reptiles and three amphibians are also nurtured by Manas. The mighty Brahmaputra flows through the heart of the park, of which the Manas River is a major tributary whence the name originates.
Ninth in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India – the Western Ghats, a region of high montane forest ecosystems much older than the mighty Himalaya. Considered one one of the best examples of the monsoon system in the world, and one of the eight hotspots of biological diversity in the world, the Western Ghats influence India’s monsoon patterns.
This biodiversity hotspot nurtures more than 7,402 flowering plant and 1,814 non-flowering plant species, about 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6,000 insect species, and about 290 freshwater fish species. It is only humbling to think of all those species yet to be discovered here. The Western Ghats is also of immense global significance for its geological, aesthetic and cultural diversity and richness.
Fact alert: A total of thirty-nine areas in the Western Ghats, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests, were designated as world heritage sites in 2012 – twenty in Kerala, ten in Karnataka, six in Tamil Nadu and four in Maharashtra. (source: Wikipedia)
Tenth and last in the series of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is Mukurthi National Park. Part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Western Ghats, the park is located in Tamil Nadu, created with the vision of conserving Nilgiri tahr, its keystone species.
Mukurthi comprises montane grasslands and shrublands, dotted by the endangered shola-grassland ecosystem. The other endangered species found here are the tiger, elephant, and the ‘vulnerable’ Nilgiri marten. Among the avifauna, hill birds such as the threatened laughingthrush, whistling thrush, wood pigeon, Nilgiri flycatcher, black-and-orange flycatcher, Nilgiri pipit are found here.
Art by Radha Pennathur, Jessica Luis and Shivangi Pant. Written by Sourabha Rao.