As ecologists and environmentalists argue, wildlife plays a crucial role in preserving the ecological balance of the region. At the same time, preservation of wildlife is directly dependent on preservation of forest. But unfortunately, man in his quest for better living has encroached upon the invaluable forest reserves. The continued depletion of forest reserve has cast serious effects on the wildlife. For example the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa) is popular for its forest reserve covering an area of about 2,750 square kilometers. It is has several species of wild animals like white Tiger, Panther, Hyena, Elephant, Wildboar, Porcupine, Bear, Blackbuck Reptiles, Monkey, Squirrel, Jungle cat, Chameleon, Karanja, Mangoose and so on. It is estimated that the state forest houses about 473 species of birds, 110 species of reptiles, 86 species of mammals, 3 species of crocodiles and 19 species of amphibians. Apart from these, the forests of Orissa are the home for several rare species of plants and trees. Some of the popular varieties of trees and plants are Amba, Banboo, Bija, Sal, Bahada, Asan, Palas, Rai, Amala, Groe and Harida.
In fact, the forests of Orissa have become one of the important tourist spots for wildlife enthusiasts.
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The forests of Orissa have been divided into different zones or sanctuaries. A brief introduction to these wildlife sanctuaries are given here:
Bitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary is located about 190 kms from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa. This is one of the most popular sanctuary which spreads over an area of about 650 square kilometers and it houses turtles and crocodiles. This sanctuary was thrown open to public in the year 1975 and in 1998 it was declared as a National park. The sanctuary is also the home for amphibians, various species of birds, fish, Hyena and numerous other animals. In fact, it is estimated that the sanctuary has 55 species of mangroves as against the 58 of known species. One of the rare species of animal of this sanctuary is the saltwater crocodiles.
Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary: This is a wonderful place for bird watchers and every year hundreds of tourists visit this vast wildlife sanctuary. This vast sanctuary is spread over an area of about 1100 square kilometers and it is located to the south west of popular religious town of Puri. You can see numerous species of migratory birds in this sanctuary. Some of the popular species of migratory birds found here are White, Bellied Sea Eagle, Flammingo, Brahminy Kite, Barheaded Goose, Pelican, Openbilled Stork, Brahimmny Duck, Spponbill, Sigeon, Ibis, Shoveller; to name a few of the species of birds. Apart from this, you would also find spotted deer, Blackbuck, Hyena, Golden Jackal and numerous other types of animals. The sanctuary is also popular for aquatic wildlife like Prawn, Dolphin, Limbless Lizard, Crab and Crusaceans. It is estimated that about 225 species of fishes, Alepes, Acentrogobius Griseus are found in this sanctuary.
Nandankannan Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary was established in 1979 and it is located about 13 kilometers from Bubaneswar. It is has a Zoo, a botanical garden and amusement park. This sanctuary also called as ‘Garden of pleasure’ has 61 species of mammals, 81 species of birds and 18 species of reptiles. The sanctuary also houses some of the endangered species like Asiatic Lion, Indian Crocodiles, Nilgiri Langur, Sangal Liontiled Macaque, Mouse Deer and Indian Pangolin. In addition to these animals like White Gharials and Tigers can also be found here.
Satkosia Gorge Wildlife Sanctuary: The great river of Orissa, by name ‘Mahanadi’ passes through this sanctuary which is spread over an area of 796 square kilometers. You can find animals like Leopard, Tiger, Gaur, Elephant, Sambar, Gaur, Spotted Deer, Choushingha, Nilgai, Mouse Deer, Sloth Bear and Wild Dog in this Sanctuary. You can also find various species of reptiles and birds.
Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary: In this sanctuary you can find Sloth Bear, Hyena, Leopards, Barking Deer, Tiger, Chital, Sambar, Gaur, Hill Myna, Partridge, Pea Fowl and numerous reptiles and birds. There is also the historical fort of Jumlagarh and also a bird observation point. You can also find unique caves and eleven wonderful waterfalls.
A popular place for study on wildlife: The Government of Orissa has been making every effort to preserve its invaluable forests and thereby preserving the wildlife also. It has brought out several laws banning felling of trees in the wildlife reserves of the state. It has also taken effective steps to prevent poaching of animals and thereby preserving the delicate ecological balance of the region. The state has taken steps to build a tiger reserve in its Sunabeda Sanctuary. As a result of these steps there has been considerable improvement in the wildlife population. The wildlife sanctuary of Orissa has become not only a popular tourist spot but also a study centre. Several researchers from across the world visit these forests on study tour.