Great Nicobar, Little Nicobar

Country/territory: India

IBA criteria met: A1, A2 (2004)
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Area: 85,319 ha

Bombay Natural History Society
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) Threat (pressure) Condition (state) Action (response)
2003 high not assessed not assessed
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Site description (baseline)
The Nicobar Islands are one among 221 Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) in the world, and the 27 major EBAs in Asia, and thus extremely important for bird conservation. The Nicobar group comprises of 23 islands covering an area of 1,841 sq. km, but only 12 are inhabited. The Nicobar Group of islands comprise three subgroups: the Great Nicobar, the Nancowry and the Car Nicobar subgroups. The Great Nicobar subgroup is the southernmost and comprises 11 islands and smaller islets, of which four are inhabited (Sankaran 1998). About 80% area of the Nicobar islands is still covered with primary forest, and at least 60% is still relatively undisturbed (Sankaran 1995). About 50% of Great Nicobar is protected as national parks and about 85% comprises the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (88,500 ha), which was designated as a Tribal Reserve for the Shompens and Nicobarese under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956. The core area consists of two national parks, namely, Campbell Bay and Galathea, and one sanctuary, the Galathea Bay Sanctuary. Great Nicobar is the only island in the archipelago with a perennial river, while Megapode Island located off the southwest coast is uninhabited and is a wildlife sanctuary (Sankaran 1995). The forest type of the Nicobar Islands can be classified as tropical evergreen, with forested or grassland inland areas. All islands in the Great Nicobar subgroup are densely forested (Sankaran 1998). In Great Nicobar, 11% of the vascular flora are endemic to the island, 30 species are rare, endangered and confined to a few locations on the island, and about 30% of the flora are not found on the Indian mainland (Andrew and Sankaran 2002). Characteristic endemics such as the tree-fern Cyathea albo-setacea and an ornamental orchid Phalaenopsis speciosa are found only on Great Nicobar and adjacent islands (Pande et al. 1991 cited in Andrews and Sankaran 2002)

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Megapodius nicobariensis abbotti, a subspecies of the Nicobar Megapode occurs on Great and Little Nicobar, Megapode, Meroe, Treis, Trax, Menchal and Kondul Islands. According to BirdLife International (2001), the Nicobar Megapode is a Vulnerable species. In 1988, the Great Nicobar population was estimated to be below 400 birds. The Nicobar Parakeet Psittacula caniceps, although not as rare as the Nicobar Megapode, is endemic to the Great Nicobar subgroup. It is apparently common, but fairly large numbers are trapped for the cage bird trade (del Hoyo et al. 1997) thus the species is under pressure. Moreover, its tall forest habitat is also being modified, although the rate has come down in recent years due to a court order on the ban on logging. Stattersfield et al. (1998) have identified 9 Restricted Range species of birds from the Nicobar Endemic Bird Area. In this IBA, eight species are found. Only the Nicobar Bulbul Hypsipetes nicobariensis, which is restricted to the Nancowry subgroup, has never been recorded from Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar IBAs. Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar also have many subspecies of birds which are not included in the threatened category by BirdLife International (2001), but they are important as many of them are highly endemic and range restricted. The Nicobar Scops Owl Otus alius has been described as a new species (Rasmussen and Anderton, in press). With recent advances in taxonomy, it is likely that many subspecies would be elevated to species level in future (as in the case of Nicobar Scops Owl).

OTHER KEY FAUNA: There is no large wild terrestrial mammal in the Great and Little Nicobars, except the Wild Pig Sus scrofa andamanensis, which was probably brought in by early settlers. The Great Nicobar is practically the last refuge for the endemic and threatened Nicobar Crab-eating Macaque Macaca fascicularis and the Giant Robber Crab Birgus latro, the largest land crab in the world (Gandhi 2000). The Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus cognatus is a fairly common indigenous mammal.

Protecting this IBA would not only increase the survival chances of Restricted Range birds, but also many endemic and Endangered reptiles such as the Nicobarese Tree Skink Dasia nicobarensis and Nicobarese Worm Lizard Dibamus nicobaricum (Anon. 2001).

A bronze-olive or greenish, occasionally reddish race of the Painted Bronze-back snake, Dendrelaphis pictus andamanensis is reported from four locations only, including Campbell Bay and Galathea Wildlife Sanctuaries. It is considered Vulnerable by IUCN (Daniel 2002, Anon. 2001). The other reptiles like Small-eared Island Skink Lipinia macrotympanum (Vulnerable) and Tiwari’s Wolf Snake Lycodon tiwarii (Critical) are also reported from this area. Two Endangered species of amphibians, the Nicobarese Tree Frog Polypedates insularis and Shompen Frog Limnonectes shompenorum are also reported from this IBA.

Other reptiles are the Nicobar Water Monitor Varanus salvator nicobariensis and Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus on land, creeks and lagoons, while Green Turtle Chelonia mydas, Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea, Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea, and Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata inhabit the sea.

Key contributors: Ravi Sankaran, Tara Gandhi and K. Sivakumar.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Great Nicobar, Little Nicobar. Downloaded from on 09/06/2023.