Bhitarkanika Wild Life

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bhitarkanika is a Hot-spot of Biodiversity. It’s home to largetst population of salt water crocodile in India. Also home to more than 215 species of avifauna including amazing Eight Varieties of Kingfishers. It is the second largest viable Mangrove  Eco-System in India Harbours more than 70 species of Mangrove and its associates. The largest nesting site of Olive Ridleys ever recorded is at Gahirmatha (which is the only marine wildlife sanctuary of Orissa) adjacent to Bhitarkanika. It is located between 86 degree 45'57" to 87 degree 17' 36"- East longitude and 20 degree 17' 32" to 20 degree 45'58" - North latitude .It is known to be one of the largest rookery for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and MANY MORE.
An area of 145 Sq. kms. have been notified as Bhitarkanika National Park vide Notification No.19686/F & E dated 16.9.1998 of Forests & Environment Department, Govt. of Orissa. It has much significance with regard to ecological geomorphological and biological background which includes mangrove forests, rivers, creeks, estuaries, back water, accreted land and mud flats. Bhitarkanika National Park is the core area of Bhitarkanika Sanctuary.
Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary was declared vide notification No.6958/FF AH Dtd. 22.04.1975 over an area of 672  square kilometers. The Sanctuary comprising Mangrove Forests meandering rivers, innumerable criss-crossed tidal inundated creeks provide last refuge to the already endangered salt water Crocodile (Crocodile Porosus).Besides estuarine Crocodile, the Sanctuary is rich in avifauna mammalian and reptilian population. Theses Mangrove forests are good habitat for King Cobra, Indian Python and Water Monitor Lizard. A large number of water birds visit Bagagahan heronry which is an area of approximately 4 hectare. within the Bhitarkanika Forest Block near Suajore creek from the month of June to October. Most of the Birds are Asian open bill. Egrets. Black Ibis, Cormorants, Darters & etc.

A variety of plants are seen putting up luxuriant growth in this inter tidal habitat. These species are endemic to the area and are called mangroves. Some species occurring outside the inter tidal environment are called associates of mangroves. As many as 62 species of mangrove & its associates are found in Bhitarkanika Sanctuary. The mangroves are specialized plants which can tolerate inundation and salinity. Their adaptation to salinity condition is by preventing high concentration of salt, entering roots and secreting salts from their leaves. Mangrove seeds germinate on the trees, before they are disseminated. They grow a spear like hypocotyls , which when dislodged, gets embedded into mud and develop anchoring roots. Many mangroves have stilt root, which are aerial and acts as anchoring structure to withstand wave action
During 2002 the Bhitarkanika mangroves having an area of 2672 sq-km. been declared as a RAMSAR site being a wetland of international importance.

Some mangroves have inverted wedge like projections on the ground from the underground root system, called pneumatophores. The plants breathe in oxygen through the pores of pneumatophores during prolonged time of submergence of the root system.
Salt water crocodile project at Dangmal- Bhitarkanika National Park

In Orissa, the estuarine or Salt water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is restricted to the mangrove swamps of the Brahmani - Baitarani Delta of North - Eastern portion of the State which comes within the Bhitarkanika National Park. Around mid nineteen seventies, the population of these salt water crocodiles had gone down to a critical level, leaving only a small viable population in the main Bhitarkanika river and few adjoining creeks. The decline of population was mostly due to over exploitation, poaching and indiscriminate hunting. To save these greatly endangered species from extinction, a conservation programme was launched by the State Govt., through Forest Department. This project was started with active assistance from the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nation's Development Programme.

The major achievement of this project in its first phase has been to rear and rehabilitate the salt water crocodile. Apart from rearing & releasing 1717 crocodiles in the nature, 26 captive reared crocodiles have been supplied to other State projects.

The programme for conservation of estuarine crocodile and its habitat was mooted in the year 1975 by Dr. H.R Bustard, the FAO/UNDP Consultant. The entire mangrove habitat was declared as Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary on 22.4.1975 to protect the Salt Water Crocodiles. The project started at Dangmal. Illegal trapping & killing of crocodile was stopped. Every step was taken to protect the adult, sub-adult and juveniles. The practice of collection of eggs from the Wild and their subsequent incubation technique was preferred to build up the depleted population. The reared crocodiles of 1.2 meter length were released into the creeks and creek-lets.

Annual census of crocodiles is being undertaken in the mid winter. The population estimation is done by direct sighting in various creeks and rivers in both day and night. The night counting gives a better result of hatchlings & yearlings. Since identification is easy during night. The crocodiles are classified into different categories as per age gradation viz; upto 2'-4" - yearlings 4'-6" Juveniles, 6'-8" sub-adults and beyond 8' -0" adults. The presence of all age classes of crocodiles is a healthy sign of a viable population.

This winter, the total number of crocodiles stands at 1,610, which is 38 more than last year. Out of 1,610 crocodiles, 1,485 are inside the sanctuary and 125 live on the fringes. Of the total number, 519 are hatchlings, 373 yearlings, 298 juveniles, 150 sub-adults and 270 mature reptiles.The 2009 census, carried out by the divisional forest office of the Rajnagar mangrove wildlife forest division, showed a population of 1,572

Indian Crocodiles :

There are 21 species of crocodilians distributed in the warm sub-tropical and tropical waters of the world. They are grouped in three families. They are basically similar and differ from one another in minor physical characters such as shape of snout, arrangement of snouts and dental features, etc. Their distribution and distinguishing features are given in the below Table …

Bhitarkanika is the second largest viable mangrove ecosystem in India after Sundabans. It supports an amazing 8 varieties of Kingfishers in its habitat. This feature alone is an indicator of the richness of biodiversity the mangrove ecosystem can sustain. Bhitarkanika supports an amazing 8 varieties of Kingfishers in its habitat. This feature alone is an indicator of the richness of biodiversity the mangrove ecosystem can sustain.
BLAK-CAPPED KINGFISHER (Halcyon pileata) Population is approximately 400. Frequented area almost all the creeks and creeklets in Bhitarkanika N.P and Mahanadi delta during September onwards. Peaks during Dec-Jan. The bird is rarely sighted during monsoon. Nesting habit is being closely monitored.
COLLARED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus chloris) Population is app. 200.Globally uncommon but common in Bhitarkanika. These birds can be sighted in Mahisamada creek, Gokhani creek, Khola creek, and Thanapati creek. Frequency of sighting is more during rainy season i.e. July-Aug, which happens to be their nesting season. Nests in tree holes.
BROWN-WING KINGFISHER (Halcyon amauroptera) Population of this large and beautiful birds is around 100. Its habitat is restricted only to core areas of Bhitarkanika. Preferred areas are Bhitarkanika & Dangamal forest blocks, Mahisamada creek, Ganjeikhia creek and Khola. Probably nests in treeholes. Nesting ecology is under study.
STORK-BILLED KINGFISHER (Halcyon capensis)- The population of this large bird in Bhitarkanika is very less. However can be sighted throughout the year in and around Dangmal FRH. Nests in tree holes in Avicennia trees.
PIED KINGFISHER (Ceryle rudis)-This resident Kingfisher is sighted in relatively fresh water areas usually in rivers Patsala, Honshua and Bhitarkanika near Gupti, innermost portions of Mahisamada and Khola creeks. Nests in mudholes in the river banks. Can be sighted throughout the year.
WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER (Halcyon smyrnensis). 28 cm. Resident. White throat, brown head & white wing patch in flight distinguishes this bird. Very common. It has a wide range of open habitat. Available throughout the state Breeding season: March to July Eggs: 5 to 6.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis) 17 cm. Resident. Very common. Smallest of kingfishers found in Bhitarkanika. Seen in wide variety of water bodies. Often migrates locally. Available throughout the sate. Nesting season: March to June Eggs: 5 to 7.
RUDY KINGFISHER (Halcyon coromanda). 26 cm. Winter Migrant. Extremely rare. It is the only migrant kingfisher at Bhitarkanika. Migrates during winter. Author has come across this bird in Khola creek on 21st February 2001. Pinkish color. Very shy. Often associated with mangroves, brackish swamp forest & evergreen forests with pools. Breeding season: March & April. Eggs: 5
Bagagahan-The Heronry:
The inter tidal zones, mudflats & the forested wet lands provide an ideal habitat to a large number of resident and migratory birds. More than 215 species of birds have been sighted in this area. The encouraging fact is the colonial nesting of large number of resident water birds in an island, locally called "Bagagahan. This heronry is one of the largest in the country.11 (eleven) species of colonial birds have been recorded, nesting in heronry.


Common Name

Scientific Name


Asian Open bill 

Anastomus oscitans


Little cormorant

Phalacrocorax niger


Little egret

Egretta garzetta


Night heron

Nycticorax nycticorax


Grey heron

Ardea cinerea



Anhinga rufa melanogaster


Large egret

Casmerodius albus


White ibis

Threskiornis melanocephalus


Cattle egret

Bubulcus ibis


Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

The above birds, mainly nest in the mangrove trees such as Excoecaria agallocha, Heritiera fomes, Cynometra iripa, Hibiscus tiliaceus and Tamarix troupii. By the first week of June, the birds start arriving at this heronry and the nesting process get over by the end of November.
Enumeration of these birds is carried out during August & September every year. It is observed that the relative abundance of various species of birds, nesting varies every year.
The Asian open bill which constitutes almost 60% of the total nesting birds,feed exclusively on molluscs meat, that they obtain from the agricultural fields, surrounding the national Park since the area is a deltaic region and the land is very fertile, the farmers hardly use any fertilizer or chemicals in their agricultural fields. Thus pollution free agricultural fields provide enough mollusks for the storks to sustain. Bagagahan is a feather in the crown of Bhitarkanika.
Sea Turtles
Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) is the most common sea turtle in Indian waters. Large nesting sites are found in Orissa, the largest nesting site ever recorded is Gahirmatha adjacent to Bhitarkanika.
Gahirmatha Sanctuary
Gahirmatha is the only marine wildlife sanctuary of Orissa. The total area of the sanctuary is 1435.0 Sq. Km.. Core area of the sanctuary consists of 725.50 Sq. K.M. Apart from Gahirmatha rookery, two other mass nesting beaches have been located which are on the mouth of rivers Rushikulya and Devi. The spectacular site of mass congregation of Olive Ridley sea turtles for mating and nesting enthralls both the scientists and the nature lovers throughout the world. This unique phenomenon is hardly seen anywhere in India.

Importance :

Olive Ridley sea turtles migrate in huge numbers from the beginning of November, every year, for mating and nesting along the coast of Orissa. Gahirmatha coast has the annual nesting figure between one hundred to five hundred thousand, each year. there has been decline in the population of these turtles in the recent past due to mass mortality. Olive Ridley sea turtle has found place in Schedule - I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (amended 1991). India is a signatory nation to all these conventions. The 'Homing' characteristics of the Ridley sea turtles make them more prone to mass casualty. The voyage to the natal nesting beaches is the dooming factor for the sea turtles. Since Gahirmatha coast serves as the natal nesting beach for millions of turtles, it has immense importance on turtle conservation.
Mud skippers
are one of the fish which live on the mud flats associated with mangroves shores. The mud skipper is a fish well adapted to alternating period of exposure to air and submersion and is frequently seen hopping along the mud at the water's edge They are well-camouflaged and able to change colour to match their background. It respires under water like other fish but out of the water gulp air. When submerged it swims like a fish but on land proceeds by a series of skips. Some of them can even climb trees using their fused pelvic (rear) fins as suckers and their pectoral fins as grasping 'arms'. When a mud skippers is out of water it carries in its expanded gill chamber a reserve from which to extract oxygen. After a few minutes, when this reserve is exhausted, it is replenished from pool or from water in the burrows which they dig. The mud skipper's most noticeable feature is a pair of highly mobile eyes perched on top of the head to increase the field of view and to enable it to see both under and over the water.
Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator)
The Water monitor is one of the largest lizards in the world, growing upto 3 mtrs. In India it is found in association with the estuarine crocodile. They are a major predator of crocodile and turtle eggs. Due to overkilling and very long periods of incubation (8-9 months) it has become endangered in India.
The Sanctuary is the home for a number of species like Indian monitor lizards, Snakes, Spotted Deer, Fishes, Turtles, Amphibians, Birds, including Giant Crocodiles
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