In the realm of biodiversity conservation in India, the terms Wildlife Sanctuary (WNS), National Park (NP), and Biosphere Reserves carry profound significance. Each plays a unique role in the preservation of diverse species, and understanding the nuances can deepen our appreciation for the natural wonders our country holds.

Unveiling the Purpose

Wildlife Sanctuaries (WNS), often government-owned or managed by private agencies, serve the singular purpose of protecting specific bird or wild animal species. These sanctuaries, although smaller in size, allow for limited human activities, such as grazing or collecting firewood, while strictly prohibiting destructive actions like poaching.

On the other hand, National Parks (NP), predominantly government-owned, have a broader scope. Their primary goal is to protect, preserve, and develop flora and fauna related to one or more species. National Parks cover larger areas than Wildlife Sanctuaries and impose stricter regulations, disallowing activities like hunting, grazing, and any form of human interference.

Legal Framework and Accessibility

Both Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks fall under the purview of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. However, access to these areas differs. While entry to a Wildlife Sanctuary requires no official permission, accessing a National Park demands official authorization, reflecting the more stringent conservation measures in place.

Boundaries and Interference

The boundary structure further distinguishes these conservation zones. Wildlife Sanctuaries maintain a flexible boundary, allowing some biotic interference in buffer areas. In contrast, National Parks have fixed boundaries set by the government, and any form of biotic interference is strictly controlled.

Conservation Efforts

As of now, neither Wildlife Sanctuaries nor National Parks actively engage in gene pool conservation. While both aim to preserve biodiversity, the focus remains on protecting existing species rather than actively conserving their genetic diversity.

Visitor Policies and Numbers

Wildlife Sanctuaries generally have fewer restrictions, permitting tourists to visit with minimal limitations. In contrast, National Parks, with stricter regulations, are open to visitors, but activities are significantly controlled. Presently, India boasts 543 Wildlife Sanctuaries covering 118,918 sq. km and 104 National Parks spanning 40,501 sq. km.

Individual Land Rights

For an individual whose land falls within a Wildlife Sanctuary, rights over the land are retained. In a National Park, however, individuals have no rights over their land.

The Evolution: Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary to Keoladeo Ghana National Park

An intriguing aspect of Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks is their potential transformation. While a Wildlife Sanctuary can be promoted to the status of a National Park, the reverse is never possible. A classic example is the journey of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, now renowned as the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Originally a hunting ground, it was designated a protected sanctuary in 1971, later becoming a bird sanctuary in 1976. By 1982, it achieved the status of a National Park and, in 1985, gained recognition as a World Heritage site, now hosting over 370 bird species.

Real-life Integration: Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks

In India, it is not uncommon to find Wildlife Sanctuaries embedded within or adjacent to National Parks. Two prime examples are:

Kanha National Park (KNP) and Phen Wildlife Sanctuary

Kanha National Park, a distinguished tiger reserve formed in 1973, covers 940 sq. km, with an additional 1,067 sq. km in its buffer zone and the adjoining Phen Wildlife Sanctuary spanning 110 sq. km. Boasting over 1,000 plant species and diverse fauna, including tigers, leopards, and various deer species, it stands as Madhya Pradesh's largest National Park and a hotspot for wildlife enthusiasts.

Sonanadi Sanctuary within Jim Corbett National Park

The Jim Corbett National Park, established in 1963, is home to the Sonanadi Sanctuary, covering 301.18 sq. km. This sanctuary, part of the Corbett Park since 1991, allows tourists to explore on foot, offering glimpses of tigers, leopards, and elephants within its rich biodiversity.

Independent Wildlife Sanctuaries

Examples such as the Kolleru Bird Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh, spanning 673 sq. km, and the Bor Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, covering 138.12 sq. km, showcase the diversity of these conservation efforts. Kolleru is a haven for bird species, while Bor Tiger Reserve, declared in 2014, hosts a range of wildlife, including the Bengal Tiger.

The Tiger Reserves in India

With approximately 70% of the world's tiger population residing in India, the country boasts about 50 Tiger Reserves. Project Tiger, initiated in 1973, has played a pivotal role in conserving and increasing the Bengal Tiger population. Notable examples include the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and the Periyar Tiger Reserve, emphasizing the critical role of protected areas in tiger conservation.

In conclusion, the distinction between Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks lies not just in their size but also in their goals, regulations, and the depth of conservation efforts. Each plays a vital role in safeguarding India's rich biodiversity, contributing to a sustainable coexistence between man and nature.