The Little Rann of Kutch offers wildlife enthusiasts and tourists an experience to cherish

The first thought on entering the sanctuary of the Little Rann (which means salt marsh in Hindi) of Kutch (LRK) is — can this wilderness be a paradise for birds and animals? One gets the answer only after touring LRK, set up in 1973 in Kutch district of Gujarat in an area of 4,953 square kilometres. It is the abode of a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and plants and the last refuge of the wild ass.

Entering from Dhrangadhra, one sees vast fields of cotton and cumin seeds. The latter are fenced with colourful saris — to keep away the birds. After traversing for 15 minutes one saw a siege of common cranes (grus grus) in flight. The long-necked slate grey birds have blackish head and upper neck with a dull red naked patch on the nape. The bird feeds on groundnut and spends the day and most of the night on river sandbanks. During the breeding season it becomes more carnivorous, feeding on insects, frogs, rodents, snakes and small birds.

The lake was a riot of colours with flamingos — both Greater (phoenicopterus rubber) and Lesser (phoenicopterus minor) — present in large numbers. The Greater Flamingo, the State bird of Gujarat, has a rosy white plumage with splashes of red on the wings with its pink bill turned inwards. It outstretches its long legs and neck with the black-bordered scarlet wings in full display when in flight. The lesser flamingo — the smallest of the family — is pale to dark pink in colour and has a dark red bill. Both the species feed on algae, insects, worms, crabs, etc. The highly social birds move around in flocks, whether feeding, breeding or travelling. Nests too are made in colonies by piling up mud to form large mounds. After the single egg hatches, both parents share feeding and baby care duties.

After travelling some distance, one spotted a herd of Indian wild ass (equus hemionus khur) which was once found in areas beyond Gujarat as far as Rajasthan, Sindh, Baluchistan and right up to Afghanistan and Iran. The group comprised three females and two foals. The male is always alone and does not join the group. The pride of LRK, it grazes on the local vegetation (morad and unt morad), weighs between 160 and 260 kilograms with a life span of up to 28 years and gives birth to one foal at a time, after a gestation period of 11 to 12 months. Gifted with an extremely well developed sense of smell, the creature with a sandy coloured coat is very shy, as was evident when the herd moved away sighting the visitors. The sanctuary boasts a population of 4037 wild asses, with the next census due this year.

While leaving the sanctuary, a stroll in the interpretation centre of the forest department proved enlightening as it displayed exhaustive descriptions and pictures of the flora and fauna of LRK with forest guards providing useful information.

LRK can be accessed from Bajana village, Dasada, Zainabad and Dhrangadhra. Connected by a network of metalled roads, it can be reached from Ahmedabad airport (130 km) and Dhrangadhra railway station (22 km). The best time to visit is from mid-October to mid-June.

(The writer was at the Little Rann of Kutch on the invitation of the 4th Global Bird Watchers’ Conference 2014, organised at Gandhinagar recently by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited, Forest Department, Government of Gujarat in association with Federation of Indian Chambers of Industry and Commerce.)