The 4953 sq km of nearly barren expanse of the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) has been protected as the Wild Ass Sanctuary. This unique terrain, a saline desert, is home to nearly 4000 Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur ). It also boasts of an equally unique ecosystem. The term ‘Rann’ comes from Hindi – suggesting”salt marsh”. This area was a shallow part of the Arabian Sea until its connection with the sea was severed due to continuing geographical uplift, creating a vast lake that was still navigable during the time of Alexander the Great.
Most of the Rann gets flooded during monsoon. However it gets dried up by the end of November or mid-December throwing its length and breadth wide open to visitors. The area is dotted with 74 elevated plateaus or uplands, which turns into islands when flooded. They are known as ‘beyts’. The LRK is the only place in the Indian subcontinent which hosts lesser and greater flamingoes in abundance.
The LRK is surrounded by five districts – Surendranagar, Patan, Rajkot, Mehsana and Kutch. Its topography gradually rises some 4m above High Water Line and was once upon a time a centre of shipping with peripheral villages being ports. Natural tectonic events and silt, brought by massive rivers including Sindhu, Banas, Saraswati and Rupen gave rise to the present day Rann.
To protect the endangered (Schedule 1) and endemic Wild Ass, popularly known as ‘Ghudkur’, the sanctuary was notified in 1973, under the Wildlife Protection Act. As per the 2004 census the population of Wild Ass in the Rann was 3863.
Wild Ass, a member of the horse family (Equidae) was once found in the areas belong Gujarat and as far as Rajasthan, Sindh, Balochistan and right upto Afghanistan and South Eastern Iran.
The Wild Ass grazes a flat grass called ‘Suaeda nudiflora’ known as ‘moral’ in local parlance which grows on the beyts and its local fringes, while coarse grasses spring up in the Rann after monsoon. With the advent of summer, the Wild Ass moves from one beyt to another in search of water and grass.
Known for its phenomenal speed and stamina, the swift animal is capable of galloping at a pace of over 30 km per hour for as long as two hours, at a top speed of 70 km per hour for short distances. This animal has the ability to survive in extreme climatic conditions including temperature variations ranging from 1 degree Celsius to 50 degree Celsius.
Wild Ass has a sandy coloured coat and its average length is 210 cm and can be upto 120 cm high at shoulders. It stays in a group in salty mudflats and has an extremely well developed sense of smell.
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