Desert National Park

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description (baseline)
In order to protect the fauna and flora of the Thar Desert, the Government of India in the late 1970s started planning the establishment of a large sanctuary or a park where human pressure could be kept to a minimum and the wildlife could be given maximum security from hunters as well as from habitat alteration. The Desert Wildlife Sanctuary (popularly called Desert National Park) was the result of this planning. It is among the one of the three protected areas of the Thar Desert (Rahmani 1997). It was notified in 1984 and it was planned to gradually upgrade it to a Park, hence its popular name Desert National Park. One of the main purposes of establishing this Park was to protect the Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps. The major objective of the Park is to develop core areas (enclosures) in which human interference is kept to a minimum and livestock grazing is totally banned. In the initial stages, Sam, Sudasari, Phulia, and Miyajlar enclosures were established. Every year, the Forest Department is adding new enclosures. Presently, there are 28 enclosures. Besides the enclosures within the Park, there are six enclosures outside the boundary, which are called satellite conservation areas (Rahmani 1989, 1997).

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: This is perhaps one of the most important sites for the long-term survival of the globally threatened Great Indian Bustard. In the 1980s, there could have been between 200 to 400 Great Indian Bustards in and around this sprawling Park, but now the number has gone down to about 100. However, the bustard still breeds in many parts of the Park, especially in Sudasari, Sam and Miyajlar enclosures. Even now, if poaching and habitat degradation are stopped, increase in the number of bustards is possible. Other birds of conservation interest are the two Gyps species of vultures that are still seen in the Park, although not in their former numbers. This site is also important for the Vulnerable Stoliczka’s Bushchat Saxicola macrorhyncha. It has been seen in Sudasari, Sam and Nibha areas of the Park (Rahmani 1996a). There are stray records of Green Munia Amandava formosa (Rahmani 1996b). Among the Near Threatened species, the most notable is the Macqueen’s or Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni (= undulata). Although population estimates for the Park are difficult to make, overall in the Thar Desert, Rahmani (1998) estimated a crude density of 0.31 Houbara/km² based on actual sightings and 1.05 Houbara/km² based on sightings and Houbara tracks. Houbara are regularly found in small groups of 3-5 birds in winter in Sudasari and Sam enclosures. The Red-headed or King Vulture Sarcogyps calvus is widespread but generally seen solitary or in twos or threes. Two nests were found in February near Sudasari inside the Park (Rahmani 1997). The Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus is widespread in winter, along with the Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus and other species of vultures. This Park represents the typical desert ecosystem flora and fauna of the Indian Thar Desert, which is a part of the much larger Saharo- Sindian Desert. BirdLife International (undated) has identified it as Biome-13 and has listed 11 bird species. Including the Great Indian Bustard and Stoliczka’s Buchchat, six more species of this Biome have been found in the Desert NP. The Greater Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes probably breeds here, as its display was seen just outside the Park in July (Rahmani 1997). Another interesting bird found breeding was the Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor (Rahmani and Manakadan 1989). For both these species, the Thar desert is the easternmost limit of their wide distribution from Morocca in North Africa to the whole of the Middle East, and then Iran to India.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Among the large mammals, Chinkara Gazella bennettii is the most common. Thanks to the development of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP), and increase in irrigation fields, Bluebul Boselaphus tragocamelus has been increasingly sighted. Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Red Fox Vulpes vulpes pusilla and, in some areas, the Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis are the major natural predators. The Desert Cat Felis silvestris is also found but is difficult to sight. Desert Hare Lepus nigricollis dayanus, a subspecies of the Black-naped Hare, and the Long-eared Hedgehog Hemiechinus auritus are among smaller denizens of the Park.

The Desert Skink Ophiomorus tridactylus, known as sandfish as it ‘swims’ or burrows through sand down to a depth of 30 cm, is found here. There are over 43 species of reptiles, including the Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx hardwickii, Russell’s Viper Daboia russelii, Saw-scaled Viper Echis carinata and the Common Monitor Lizard Varanus bengalensis.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Overgrazing; Irrigation inside the Park; Tourism; Construction of canal; Lack of maintenance of enclosures; Oil exploration by ONGC.

Even after 20 years of establishment of the Desert National Park, only preliminary notification has been done. Final notification, which will take into account the rights of local people, has not been done. This has to be done by the District Collector, on the recommendations of the Director of the Park. Earlier there were 33 villages in Jaisalmer and 52 villages in Barmer district that were inside the DNP area. Between 1980 and 1994, at least 20 new villages have come up. Actually dhanis (settlements) have been notified as villages due to increase in human population, and also to get government aid, for which only notified villages are entitled. The second greatest danger to this site is the plan to develop Gadra Road irrigation canal, a tributary of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP) (Rahmani 1989, 1997). This canal, if developed, will bisect the Park, and also bring settlers, as has happened in other parts of the desert. Water to villagers could instead be supplied through underground pipes, and wide, open canals should be avoided. Recently, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) has approached the Park authorities to allow preliminary oil exploration in the heart of the Park. Despite opposition from conservationists, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has given permission to ONGC to drill in the Park. In order to devise scientific management plans, it is absolutely necessary to intensively study the ecology, movement and habitat requirement of the Great Indian Bustard through modern techniques such as satellite tracking and radio telemetry.

Key contributor: Asad R. Rahmani.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Desert National Park. Downloaded from on 01/06/2023.