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What is a Wildlife Sanctuary?
A wildlife sanctuary is an area where animals and birds can live protected and safe in their natural habitats, away from poaching or trafficking. It is also known as a natural reserve, biosphere reserve or a nature conservation area. It is an area where not only the animals are protected but the flora as well as other geological features are conserved and maintained either to be studied or for research purposes. They can be under the direct care of the government or can be owned by private charities and research institutions. In sanctuaries there are strict rules against killing, capturing and poaching of the animals. One of the main reasons they are established is for the protection of endangered species.
Wildlife Sanctuaries in India
In India there are about 543 wildlife sanctuaries which cover a total of 118,918 square kilometres. Some of the prominent ones are:
Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka
A protected area as well as a tiger reserve, it is located 23 kilometres south of Bhadravathi and 38 kilometres Northwest of Chikmagalur in Karnataka. It was first declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1951 by the Government of Mysore. It was then declared as a Project Tiger Reserve in 1998. It is a hotspot of biological diversity consisting of about 120 plant species and a number of wild animals including wild boar, elephants, black leopard, sambar, jackals and many birds.
Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary
It is a forest and wildlife sanctuary near Gujarat in an area known as Talala Gir. The sanctuary is also known as Sasan Gir. It was established in the year 1965 and consists of a total area of 1,412 square kilometres. More than 400 species of plants have been recorded here along with a count of 2,375 distinct species of animals and birds. This wildlife sanctuary mainly aims at the preservation and increase in population of the Asian Lion which is an endangered species.
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala
This Sanctuary is located 18 kilometres north of Marayoor, in the Devikulam taluk of the Idukki district of Kerala. It is one among the twelve wildlife sanctuaries in the protected areas of the state. It is the only rehabilitation centre in India for the Indian Star Tortoise. There are about 600 species of animals and birds along with about 963 species
of flowering plants.
Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary
It was set up in the year 1915 in Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal and covers an area of 38.6 square kilometres. It is a habitat for animals like jungle cat, Assam macaque, Rhesus monkey, Himalayan flying squirrel, Indian leopard and is also rich in bird life.
Pani Dihing Wildlife Sanctuary
This wildlife sanctuary is located in the Sivasagar district of Assam and occupies about 33.93 square kilometres. It was mainly established as a Bird Sanctuary in the year 1999. The Brahmaputra river and the Disang river border it in the north west and south respectively. Birds from about 267 different species can be found here. About 70 species of migratory birds have also been seen and identified here. Some of the commonly seen birds are bar-headed goose, spot billed ducks, ferruginous duck, white necked stork and red crested pochard. Rare birds like the white rumped vultures and griffins have been seen at the sanctuary. This sanctuary is a paradise for bird watchers and a lot of people have been seen visiting this sanctuary.
Other Wildlife Sanctuaries worth mentioning are the Chilika Bird Sanctuary, Govind Wildlife Sanctuary, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Importance of Wildlife Sanctuaries
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Help in Preserving Wildlife
Most of the times it is difficult to protect endangered animals by relocating them as it is tedious and very costly and hence, these animals are protected in their natural environment where they can be monitored and can reproduce and grow in number while being under strict protection of the sanctuary. Biologists and other researchers can also study about these animal’s behaviours and traits by visiting these sanctuaries. And as they are in their natural habitat, they are free to roam and move around without being constrained in a cage.
Help in protection of Landscapes
Forests are disappearing. There was a time when all we could see around us was trees, and now all we see are buildings. These forests have been cut down to make way for villages, towns and cities. But in these sanctuaries as it is protected land these forests cannot be cut down, they are preserved and allowed to grow without any barriers. This also helps preserve land forms like hills and mountains, rivers, valleys and waterfalls. As they are protected, they are safe from destruction, development and pollution.
Help in Preserving Culture and History
The forests these sanctuaries occupy are also home to some tribes that have made it their habitat since ages long gone. Tribes like the Saara adivasis in Odisha also play a role in conserving these forests that they live in. By establishing these sanctuaries, the tribes living there are protected as well as they do not have to fight against developers who would otherwise tear down the forest. This also helps in preserving their culture and habits.
Protection of Endangered Species
Numerous species of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction because of the habits and needs of us humans. Sanctuaries provide us with a safe space where human activities do not interfere with nature and where nature can grow free from human intervention.
Conservation of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the wealth of habitats, ecosystems and diversity of species on the planet and this number has been waning because of human activities. As already mentioned, sanctuaries help in conserving all the biodiversity over an area as it keeps this area free from humans and their activities which could be detrimental to the ecosystem. It is also a type of conservation known as in-situ conservation where the ecosystem is conserved in their natural state and form.
In wildlife sanctuaries people are not allowed to go unescorted, that is without a certified guide. Ecotourism is the tourism of ecologically interesting areas to support conservation of wildlife and observe the wildlife. Here the general public has access to see animals in their natural habitat free of the cages. They get to see animals in their herds, with their young ones and without any fear for their safety. One of the major benefits of ecotourism is that money can be raised by the fees collected for entering the sanctuary. This money can be used in turn to develop the sanctuary.
Education and Public Use
The general public is not educated enough about sanctuaries and the benefits they have. But nowadays more and more people are getting educated on sanctuaries and are part of committees that help in uptake of sanctuaries. Celebrities as well help in creating awareness by adopting animals and creating charities on behalf of sanctuaries not only in India but all around the world.
Wildlife sanctuaries are a country’s natural wealth and they come with a host of different advantages both to mankind and the environment, and thus they need to be protected at all costs.