Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
The Wild Ass Sanctuary encompasses the Little Rann of Kutch and its peripheral areas in Surendranagar, Rajkot, Mehsana, Banaskantha and Kutch districts. Of the total area of the Sanctuary, 356,900 ha fall in the Little Rann, whereas 138,400 ha of wasteland fall in 107 villages of five districts. The Sanctuary area is characterized by vast, salt-impregnated, sun-baked mudflats, which are dotted with small patches of uplands, locally called bets (meaning islands). There are thirty bets of varying sizes, the five best known ones around the edge of the Little Rann are the Pung-bet, Dhut-bet, Nanda-bet, Vachabet and Jhilandan-bet. There are transition zones, or Kala-lana areas, with lower content of salt. The mudflats remain submerged for about 4 - 5 months of the year under fresh water received from a few rivers and saline water from the Arabian Sea. Water depth varies from 0.5 m to 1.5 m. The area has scanty, xerophytic vegetation cover and the fauna has adapted to the water scarcity and saline habitat conditions. The Sanctuary represents a unique true saline desert-cum-wetland habitat. Historically, it has been a part of the Arabian Sea. The Little Rann of Kutch, in which the Sanctuary is largely located, was connected with the Great Rann of Kutch and Gulf of Kutch, which got silted and separated around 400 BC or later. Fossil deposits indicate the growth of corals, mangroves and marine life before the rise of the seabed and deposition of mud. The Government of India has identified the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) as an important site for establishing a Biosphere Reserve. It is a unique habitat, which provides the last abode of the Indian Wild Ass Equus hemionus khur, one of the six geographical varieties or subspecies of wild ass surviving on the earth.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: More than 150 species of birds are reported from the site (Shah et al. 1995). The site lies in Biome-13 (Saharo-Sindian Desert). BirdLife International (undated) has listed 11 species in this biome, four have been identified till now from this site. As this biome merges with Biome-11 (Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone), 15 species of Biome-11 are also seen. Most of them are widespread and common and thus of not much conservation concern. Although the Wild Ass Sanctuary is basically a vast, flat desert, during monsoon many areas get filled up and attract waterbirds of numerous varieties. During good rainfall years, in many lowlying areas, water remains till winter. Vast flocks of ducks and waders are found in these temporary wetlands for brief periods. Their numbers would run in tens of thousands. Important waterbodies are Bajana, Nava Talav, Nanda, Shedwa-bet and Surajbari mudflats. Bajana is located on the eastern fringe of the Wild Ass Sanctuary. It is a monsoon-fed waterbody with riverine discharges from Banas, Saraswati and Rupen rivers during the monsoon. Bajana is shallow on the western side so that side dries up earlier, whereas the eastern and northeastern sides are deeper. It is inhabited by two species of flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber and P. minor), Coot Fulica atra, ducks and waders. Huge flocks of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus are found here. Another waterbody worth noting is Nava Talav. Although it has a natural source of water, this reservoir should be considered a man-made or man-modified wetland (Singh et al. 1999). This is because constructing bunds and in turn trapping the rainwater run-off have created the wetland. It is owned by Hindustan Salt Works. Huge numbers of waterbirds are found here. Surajbari mudflats are situated in the western region of the Little Rann of Kutch. The tidal water comes through a creek called Hadakiya Creek from the Gulf of Kutch, and flows through anastomosing channels extending 3-4 km into the Rann (Singh et al. 1999). Driven by strong winds, the water spreads far inside where it evaporates, leaving salt encrustations. A large expanse of the tidal mudflat has been converted into salt pans. In recent years, the Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor has been found breeding here. As part of a comprehensive ecological study of the Wild Ass Sanctuary, birds were fortnightly monitored between November 1997 and March 1998. The waterbodies of this Sanctuary supported a total of 80,000 waterbirds (Singh et al. 1999). The most dominant species was Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata (16.30%), followed by Lesser Flamingo (14%), Pintail Anas acuta (8.42%), Coot (7.5%) and Greater Flamingo (7%). The Sanctuary has great potential of being a wetland site of international importance (Ramsar site) (Singh et al. 1999). The BirdLife International (2001) has listed the Lesser Flamingo as Near Threatened. Though the global population is about 5,000,000, including about 1,50,000 in Asia, declines have been suggested in much of Africa due to various development projects envisaged in its huge compact breeding colonies. In India, its number was always less than the Greater Flamingo. In the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Singh et al. (1999) estimated a population of about 11,000. Earlier, it was known to nest only in the Greater Rann of Kutch (an IBA) by Ali (1974) but in 1989. Mundkur et al. (1989), reported its nesting in Little Rann also. According to Wetlands International (2002), the 1% threshold of South Asian population of Lesser Flamingo is 1,500. With its population of 11,000, this site has almost 9% of the Lesser Flamingos of South Asia. Therefore, this site also qualifies A4ii criteria. Like Lesser Flamingo, the following species also fulfil A4i criteria (1% threshold vis-a-vis total seen in this site): Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus (250:1,902), Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala (100:194), Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia (230:2,561), Greater Flamingo (2,900:5,613), Common Crane Grus grus (700:747), Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata (10,000:13,000), Pied Avocet Recurvirostris avosetta (1,000:4873), and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (1,000:1,100). Information on the 1% population thresholds is taken from Wetlands International (2002), and on the species population in the Wild Ass Sanctuary from Singh et al. (1999). Globally threatened Sarus Crane Grus antigone is also found in this site, but mostly on the fringes. Shah et al. (1995) have seen it in Surendranagar districts, and Gopi Sunder et al. (2000) saw 10 Sarus at Tundi Talab in May 1998. Some of the bets (islands in the vast flat area) for terrestrial birds are Pung-bet, Dhut-bet, Wasraj Solanki-bet, Mardak-bet and Nanda-bet. Among all the Bets, Pung-bet is the largest. Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni, Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor, White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis, Hoopoe or Bifasciated Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Variable or Pied Wheatear Oenanthe picata, and other desert birds are found in these bets. The Little Rann of Kutch is a regular wintering site for the Near Threatened Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni. As no detailed study has been conducted, we do not know the population density and total number wintering in this IBA. Another threatened species recently added from this site is the Stoliczka’s Bushchat or White-browed Bushchat Saxicola macrorhyncha (Otto Pfister pers. comm. 2003).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: About 28 species of mammals, 18 species of snakes, 16 species of lizards, 5 species of amphibians, and 2 species of turtles are reported from the Sanctuary. Besides the Wild Ass Equus onager, the Sanctuary harbours other large mammals such as Chinkara Gazella bennettii, Grey Wolf Canis lupus, Blackbuck Antilope cervicapra (on the fringes), Hyena Hyaena hyaena, Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus, Caracal Caracal caracal and Desert Cat Felis silvestris.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Ingress of salinity; Invasion of Prosopis chilensis; Grazing; Heavy vehicular movement; Denotification.

The Little Rann of Kutch has been identified by the Government of India as an important site for a Biosphere Reserve. The Biosphere Reserve (638,500 ha) proposed for consideration includes 495,300 ha area of the Sanctuary and 143,200 ha of 47 peripheral villages. Farmers from Bhuravandh and Adesar near the Chovisa lake inside the Sanctuary have been illegally pumping out water for their cumin crops. This adversely impact a large number of birds like egrets and cormorants that regularly nest here. Excessive pumping in 2001-02, eventually left the lake completely dry, leading to the death of thousands of birds and their young ones. In the last two decades, salt traders and extracters have enveloped and encroached the sanctuary area with salt-pans. Fishermen exploit the area during the monsoon and thousands of domestic cattle enter the Rann daily to graze illegally, depriving the local wildlife of fodder and spreading diseases. With drastic deterioration in the habitat of the Wild Ass, its future is severely threatened. The adjacent area of the Wild Ass Sanctuary is reported to have 107 villages. These, and additional villages from further away, are dependent on the Sanctuary for salt manufacture, grazing and fishing. Roughly 20% of the salt produced in India is reported to come from this region. An estimated 40,000 people and large numbers of vehicles associated with the salt manufacturing industry are reported to operate inside the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is being threatened with denotification of 589 sq. km for the development of the salt industry, which has fortunately not yet materialised. A petition to this effect has been filed in the Gujarat High Court, seeking clarification on some of the issues concerning the Sanctuary, and suggesting a participatory planning and management process for defining an appropriate land use plan for the area. Indiscriminate expansion of salt manufacturing and a possible move to denotify the Sanctuary under pressure from the salt industry, needs to be urgently countered.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 02/07/2020.