Bhitarkanika National Park is a national park located in the Kendrapara District Odisha in eastern India. Core area of 145 square kilometre of the Bhitarkanika Wild Sanctuary, spread over 672 km2, has been designated as a National Park since 16th Sep 1998. Also a Ramsar Convention 19th Aug 2002.
The national park is surrounded by the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary. Gahirmatha Beach and Marine Sanctuary lies to the east, and separates swamp region cover with canopy of mangroves from the Bay of Bengal. Thus it become a vicinity of rich biodiversity.
The park is home to Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), White Crocodile, Indian python, King Cobra, black ibis, darters and many other species of flora and fauna. The national park was created in September 1998 from the core area of the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, which was created in 1975. The sanctuary is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India. The national park and wildlife sanctuary is inundated by a number of rivers – Brahmani, Baitarni, Dhamra, Pathsala and others.
Bhitarkanika is formed from two Odia words ‘Bhitar’ meaning interior and ‘Kanika’ meaning that which is extraordinarily beautiful. The Bhitarkanika Mangroves were Zamindari forests until 1952, when the government of Odisha abolished the Zamindari system and put the Zamindari forests in the control of the State Forest Department. But next 10-15 years saw heavy influx of outsiders and this took a heavy toll of the mangrove forests. Large scale encroachment on forest land took place due to expansion of agriculture. In 1975, an area of 672 sq. km was declared as the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary vide notification No.6958/FF AH Dtd. 22.04.1975. It is in this period when real wildlife management started. Dr. Bustard, Chief Technical Advisor to Government of India from UNDP / FAO initiated famous Crocodile Conservation Project and also reported mass nesting of olive ridley sea-turtles on the Gahirmatha coast. The Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary, which bounds the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary to the east, was created in September 1997 and encompasses Gahirmatha Beach and an adjacent portion of the Bay of Bengal. An area of 145 sq. km, the core area of Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary was declared as Bhitarkanika National Park vide Notification No.19686/F & E dated 16.9.1998 of Forests & Environment Department, Govt. of Odisha. 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. During 2002 the Bhitarkanika mangroves having an area of 2672 sq-km. been declared as a Ramsar site being a wetland of international importance. It lies in the north eastern coast of Odisha in between 20° 30’ to 20° 50’N latitude and 86°30’to 87°06’E longitude in Kendrapara district. It is mainly confined to the deltaic regions of river Brahmani and Baitarani.
It is a very good place to sight the giant Salt Water Crocodile, some growing to 23 feet in length, along with other reptiles like the Water Monitor Lizard and the King Cobra. Spotted deers and Wild Boars are abundant in the park and can be spotted at all the major locations. Eight varieties of Kingfishers are found here and can be spotted along the many creeks and riverines within the park.
The boat ride from Khola to Dangmal or vice versa is highly recommended. Khola is one of the gateways into the park. This is along an artificial creek and it passes through dense mangrove forest providing a glimpse into the estuarine ecosystem and its wealth of fauna. The best time to travel through this creek is early morning or before sunset.
Bhitarkanika has a very rich historical and cultural past. It used to be the hunting grounds of the erstwhile King of Kanika . The hunting towers and artificial watering holes can be seen at many places including Bhitarkanika trail and at Dangmal. It is also the home of medieval Hindu temples which can be found dotted throughout the sanctuary. But the major attraction remains the wildlife wealth.
Mangroves and wildlife:
Mangroves are salt tolerant, complex and dynamic eco-systems that occur in tropical and subtropical inter-tidal regions. Bhitarkanika is one such location of rich, lush green vibrant eco-system lying in the estuarine region of Brahmani- Baitarani in the North-Eastern corner of Kendrapara district of Odisha. The area is intersected by a network of creeks with Bay of Bengal on the East. The alley between the meandering creeks and rivers, houses the second largest viable mangrove eco-system of India. Its 672 km². of mangrove forest & wetland, provides home to well over 215 species of birds including winter migrants from central-Asia and Europe. Giant salt water crocodiles and a variety of other wildlife inhabit this eco-system which is one of Asia’s most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries.
Flora and fauna:
Flora: Mangroves, trees like sundari, thespia, casuarinas, and grasses like the indigo bush, and more.
Fauna: The park is home to the saltwater crocodile, white crocodile, Indian python, black ibis, wild pigs, rhesus monkeys, chitals, darters, cobra, water monitor lizard . Olive ridley sea-turtles nest on Gahirmatha and other nearby beaches. Bhitarkanika has one of the largest populations of endangered saltwater crocodile in India and is globally unique in that 10 percent of the adults exceed 6 m length. Nearly 1671 saltwater crocodiles inhabit the rivers and creeks. Around 3,000 saltwater crocodiles were born during 2014 annual breeding and nesting season.
Bhitarkanika Forest Block:
A nature’s trail in Bhitarkanika Forest Block over a stretch of 4.0 kms. is a thrilling experience & a must for all nature lovers. Mangrove species give way to its associates like Kochila, Mankada Kendu as we move away from the creeks.
A number of meadows, fresh water ponds are the ideal places, one can look for chittals, water monitor lizard, migratory & resident birds. An ancient Siva temple, a silted white lotus pond & collapsed shooting block of King of Kanika brings back the memory of history of the place.
It can be approached from Ekakula in about 30 minutes along Baunsagarh Nala & is an experience one ought to under-take to believe. The 2.54 kms. trail from jetty across Baunsagarh nala to tourists cottage is a thrilling experience. Red jungle fowl, fishing cat, chital, wild boar, water monitor lizard are the fauna to look out for. The exclusivity of the area, the virgin sea beaches makes it one of the finest places in Bhitarkanika.