This wildlife paradise has wetlands, rivers, lakes, forests and coastal environments supporting a huge range of animal and birdlife. This is India’s most significant wintering ground for migratory birds and the national parks are home to to tigers, leopards, elephants, monkeys and many more wonderful creatures. Odishan wildlife also includes endangered olive ridley turtles who usually visit to nest here annually in numbers reaching hundreds of thousands.
Chilika is a large lagoon south west of Puri. Freshwater rivers feed it in the north, but the south has access to the sea. From north to south it is 65km long. This allows a variety of different species to exist in Chilika, most exciting of which is the Irrawaddy fresh water dolphin. Winter is the best time to observe migratory birds, as this is the largest wintering ground in India. Boat trips are easy to arrange through your hotel or a tour operator.
Similipal National Park is where wild elephants flock to the Chahala salt lick and shy tigers roam in the undergrowth. It is also the habitat of the rare black ‘panther’ or leopard. Antelope, deer, monkeys and a riot of birds also live here.
Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary is 130km from Bhubaneswar. Visiting is best done by boat along the muddy creeks with eyes peeled for monster crocodiles and lizards basking on the shoreline or amongst the mangroves. Nearby is the Gahimatha Wildlife Sanctuary, another breeding ground for the olive ridley turtle, and which can be reached by boat from Bhitarkanika.
This 347-sq-km sanctuary is 40km from Sambalpur and is an easy day out from there. Mainly dry deciduous forest blankets the Barapahad Hills down to the shores of the vast Hirakud reservoir, a home for migratory birds in winter. Major wildlife here includes deer, antelopes, sloth bears, langur monkeys and the ever-elusive tigers and leopards. Access requires a 4WD, which can be arranged through Odisha Tourism or your hotel.
Odishan wildlife is also found on the coast where Rushikulya Beach has the world’s largest known rookery of the olive ridley turtle. Thousands of female turtles come in to nest in February choosing dark nights for safety. After laying up to 180 eggs in a scooped hole in the sand and covering it over they dash back to the safety of the sea. Some 50 to 60 days later millions of baby turtles emerge during the night from their nests and waddle in a frenzy to the sea. Many do not survive becoming food for birds and large fish; it is estimated that only one in a thousand make it to adulthood.