Kachchh Biosphere Reserve: Rann and Biodiversity
Rann is largest saline and marshy tracts in the entire world usually have low rain fall and sparse vegetation. However, it forms its own unique ecosystem which supports unique biodiversity of flora and fauna. Similarly, Kachchh Biosphere Reserve (KBR) is mainly composed of two major ecosystems called Great Rann of Kachchh (GRK) and Little Rann of Kachchh (LRK) covering area of 12,454 km2, the reserve mainly it covers Kachchh Desert Sanctuary (in GRK) and Wild Ass Sanctuary (in LRK). A reserve also covers part of finest grassland of Asia called Banni. No many researches are available about the scientific information of KBR.
January 19, 2010; Accepted: May 02, 2010;
Published: July 01, 2010
Great Rann of Kachchh (GRK) and Little Rann of Kachchh (LRK) is one of the
largest saline and marshy tracts of the world (Vijaykumar
et al., 2007). Rann of Kachchh is characterized by the low rain fall
and sparse vegetation. However, this region has a special and different demography
from the rest of the desert because of its location near the sea and low-lying
areas by which marine water enters into the vast expanse. As a result, Rann
of Kachchh is an admixture of saline, marshy and coastal desert where water
and soils are extremely saline. This characteristic makes Rann as a special
for biodiversity point of view because it harbors its own, unique forms of desert
flora and fauna, with some endemic and species of high conservation significance
both at national and international levels.
With understanding of the immense value of the Rann ecosystem, Kachchh Biosphere Reserve (KBR) has been designated as the 15th Biosphere Reserve of India on January 29, 2008. The KBR lies between 22°55' N latitudes and 69°05' E to 71°50' E longitudes and spread over area of 12,454 km2 covering parts of four districts namely Kachchh, Rajkot, Surendranagar and Patan districts of Gujarat state, India. The reserve is mainly composed of two major land units known as Great Rann of Kachchh (GRK) and Little Rann of Kachchh (LRK). The GRK and the LRK with an area of about 16780 and 5180 km2, respectively, constitute the entire Rann of Kachchh. However, entire area of GRK and LRK is not a part of KBR. Initially LRK was identified as one of the potential site for bio-sphere by Core Advisory Group of Experts but considering a whole Rann as unique and import ecosystem, reserve was expanded to include GRK. Out of total area of KBR, Kahchh Desert-wildlife Sanctuary (KDS) covers area of 7500 km2 of GRK and Wild Ass Sanctuary (WAS) covers about area of 4954 km2 of LRK. Out of the entire area, 4455 km2 forms the core zone and 7999 km2 of buffer zone of the KBR. Out of total area of core zone, KDS comprises the area of 3500 km2 and WAS 955 km2.
The Rann areas of KBR in general characterized by a flat topography, annual
water inundation pattern, high salinity, barrenness and many small uplands locally
called bets. The bets are slightly raised isolated patches of land with less
salinity and support some xerophytic vegetation. Ecologically, GRK and LRK represent
one of the largest seasonal wetland areas with water depth ranges from 0.5 to
1.5 m. However, after October-November, water start drying up and the area turns
into a saline desert by forming thick layer deposition of salt crystals (GEER,
1999; Meena et al., 2008; GUIDE,
2002; Joshi and Sunderraj, 2009).
GREAT RANN OF KACHCHH (GRK)
Salt-impregnated GRK is one of the most remarkable and unique region in the
entire world due to its wilderness value and appears like a tabletop surface,
interspersed with small uplands (islands) locally called beyts or Dhoi with
green vegetation. There is no prominent landmark except many beyts. Study conducted
by a State Government Department, Gujarat Ecology Commission (Babbar
et al., 1994) identified 13 islands in GRK, out of these Khadir,
Pachchham, Tragadi, Sol, Kakida and Sansla are well known islands/beyts. Khadir,
Pachchham, Tragadi and Sansla are also called as hilly islands of Rann (Ali,
1945). These islands/bayts supports many important species of flora and
In GRK, Pachchham is largest island of the Kachchh district and due to diverse
habitats it supports many plant species (Joshi, 2002).
In 2002, being a high floral diversity area, it was suggested that it should
be declared as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) (Joshi,
2002). Similarly, Khadir is also one of the largest island of GRK which
supports diverse vegetation types including mixed scrub thorn and savanna (Joshi
and Sunderraj, 2009). Rare and Endangered plants species of GRK includes
Citullus colocynthis, Commiphora wightii, Convolvulus stoksii,
Dactyliandra welwitschii, Dipcadi erythraeum, Ephedra foliata,
Helichrysum cutchicum, Heliotropium bacciferum, Heliotropium rariflorum,
Ipomoea kotschyana, Indigofera caerulea, Limonium stocksii,
Pavonia certatocarpa, Sida tiagi and Trilumbs rajasthanisis.
In the eastern border of Banni grassland, inside the GRK a place locally known
as Shrawan Kavadia, there is a land-locked patch of Mangrove (Avicinnia marina)
forest of about 2 ha surviving without any direct connection with sea water.
This patch is mainly surviving due to micro-environmental conditions created
by saline Rann and Banni grassland. The GRK also well known for established
nesting and breeding ground of Greater Flamingo in India. Many migratory birds
attracted towards this region because of food (algae) availability in the saline-desert-marshy
ecosystem. For example, Hunj Bet (Hunj is the local language name of Flamingo),
right in the centre of the GRK, is popularly known as Flamingo City, is famous
breeding grounds of the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber) in India
had been first reported and discovered in the 1886 by Maharao Khengarji (Patel,
1971), but it was Dr. Salim Alis work that forms the first major account
of this amazing phenomenon. The area is famous for the largest congregation
of Greater Flamingo in the entire sub continent where about 100-200 thousand
birds lay the eggs. The area after the rainfall is converted as a marshy island,
where the Greater Flamingo visits in tens of thousands in number for breeding.
In 1945, Dr. Salim Ali estimated a population of half million birds from the
site. Small mounds of muds make the nests on the ground and on each mounds the
birds lay their eggs. According to last estimates, there may be about 100,000
birds visited the (Meena et al., 2008). The area
may not be considered very rich in diversity, but it supports one of the magnificent
ecological phenomena, which need to be preserved. Besides Greater Flamingo,
Lesser Flamingo (P. minor) and Avocet are also recorded having bred in
GRK in the past (Singh, 2001). Further more this area
supports many water birds. Among mammalian species, Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus
auritus), Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipses), desert fox (Vulpes
vulpes pusilla), Chinkara (Gazelle gazelle), desert cat (Felis
silvestris), India porcupine (Hystrix indica), Indian ratle (Mellivora
capensis)), caracal (Felis caracal) and striped hyena (Hyena hyena)
have been recorded from different areas of GRK. Moreover, GRK provides shelter
to Indian wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), a threatened sub species of
Asiatic wild ass. A small fish species Cyrinodon dispar is common in
Rann. Similarly reptile species like saw-scaled viper (Echis carnatus),
common India krait (Bungarus caeruleus), black cobra (Naja oxina)
and several species of lizards like spiny tailed lizard (Uromastix hardwickii),
desert monitor (Varanus griseus) are also recorded from GRK. A Gecko
species, Banded gecko (Crytopodion kachhensis) found in GRK is an endemic
to the Kachchh region of the India.
LITTLE RANN OF KACHCHH (LRK)
The LRK is Southward extension of GRK usually described as a flat, saline waste
or salt-impregnated wilderness. The LRK is similar to GRK in physiography, edaphaic
conditions, eco-climate and vegetation. It lies to the Southeast of the Great
Rann and along a line of marine recession between the Indus Delta and the Gulf
of Khambhat. During the southwest monsoon (July to September), large areas are
inundated by up to 2 m of water, much of which is pushed up from the Gulf of
Kachchh by strong westerly winds. The salt flats dry out almost entirely during
the prolonged dry season. Saline areas are relieved by areas of slightly higher
ground with salt-free soil supporting stunted, scrubby vegetation. Total 74
beyts have been identified out of which 51 having vegetation cover (Meena
et al., 2005).
Totally 253 flowering plants species have been enlisted from the LRK region
of reserve (Meena et al., 2005). However, due to
maximum similarity with GRK, many threatened plant species found in GRK also
occur in LRK. A total 93 species of invertebrates includes 25 species of zooplanktons,
one species of Annelid, 4 crustacean, 24 insects, 12 molluscans, 27 spiders
have been recorded from Nanda and Shedwa bayets. The LRK also supports brackish
water fisheries, especially the prawn fisheries. Mixing of tidal water from
the Gulf of Kachchh with the fresh water discharged from the rivers takes place
in LRK, making important nursery ground for prawns. Eleven prawn species have
been recorded with major contribution of Metapenacus kutchensis (endemic
to Kachchh) and M. affinis.
Among vertebrate fauna Wild Ass Sanctuary in LRK provides breeding and roosting
habitat for large number of diverse avifauna. A variety of resident and migratory
birds belonging to at least 178 species occur in the Wild Ass Sanctuary of LRK
(Singh, 2001). About 81 terrestrial (9 migratory extra-limital)
and 97 water birds (42 migratory) have been recorded from different 16 sites
of the wild ass sanctuary in LRK. However, during 2004 survey conducted by Corbett
Foundation, 186 bird species were recorded from this area. Rare and endangered
bird species found in the LRK includes Hobara Bustered (Chlamydotis undulate),
Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor). In 1998, a large breeding colony
of Lesser Flemingo was observed in the LRK. Further more, a threatened waterfowl
all over the world, has been regularly seen in the Wild Ass Sanctuary of LRK.
So, this sanctuary is recognized as wetland site of international importance.
Among herpetofaunal species, four species of amphibians, two species of turtles,
14 species of lizards, 12 snakes and one crocodile have been recorded from this
region. Herpetofaunal species like Indian flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata),
spiny tailed lizars (Uromastyx hardwickii), saw-scaled viper (Echis
carrinatus), cobra (Naja naja) are very common in LRK. Total 33 species
of mammlas have been enlisted from Wild Ass Sanctuary of LRK which includes
5 ungulates, 14 Carnivores, 1 Logomorph, 6 Redentia and Chiroptera, 1 Pholidota,
3 Insectivore and 1 species of Primate. Vast flat saline desert of LRK having
unique and fascinating wildlife in general and Indian Wildlife Ass (Equus
hemionus khur) in perticular. The LRK is quite rich in biodiversity and
is famous for the last remaining population of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur)
(Meena et al., 2008), the only gene pool in the
world and one of the six geographical varieties or sub-species surviving on
the earth. The Indian Wild Ass is included is listed as endangered species in
IUCNs Red Data Book and also included in Schedule-I of Indian Wildlife
Protection Act. According to census carried out in the months of November 2008
to February 2009, the total population of Wild Ass is about 4038. Other than
the Wild Ass, the LRK also provide ideal habitat for large number of bird species
(GEER, 1997, 1999; GUIDE,
Gujarat State Forest Department (GSFD) and many research organizations like Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC), Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation (GEER), Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE) have contributed valuable studies in the many ecological aspects of Rann areas of Kachchh. However, looking towards uniqueness of KBR, further journeying towards various research aspects is needed to understand the ecological importance of the KBR.
Authors are grateful to Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology, Bhuj for the facilities provided for this study.
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