A vast expanse of scrub-dotted saline plain, the last stronghold of the Asiatic Wild Ass

Little Rann Wildlife Sanctuary

Despite its bleak and harsh appearance, the landscape is home to various mammals in addition to the Asiatic Wild Ass, such as Nilgai, Wolf, Striped Hyena and the Indian Fox. A great assortment of birds can be sighted in winter. Cranes and flamingos gather in thousands; there are raptors in plenty and a chance to spot the rare MacQueen’s Bustard.

A vast expanse of scrub-dotted saline plain, the last stronghold of the Asiatic Wild Ass

As the last stronghold of the Asiatic Wild Ass, this 5000km2 sanctuary is also commonly known as the Wild Ass sanctuary. Since the designation of the sanctuary in 1972, the population of wild asses has risen from a meagre 362 to over 4,000 individuals.

The Little Rann is only about 60 cm above sea-level, but over 70 patches of high ground (bets), rise to almost 3 m. Pung Bet, the largest, spreads over 75 sq km. These less saline areas, with luxuriant grass cover interspersed with thorny scrub, are the mainstay of the Rann’s flora and fauna, and of the wild ass in particular.

The Asiatic Wild Ass can run for long distances maintaining an average speed of about 30-35 km per hour, reaching a top speed of 50km per hour. Groups stay together except in the foaling season when the mares and foals stay separate from the stallions.

Salt Production

30% of India’s inland salt is produced in the salt pans of the Little Rann of Kutch by members of the Agariya tribe. The saline plains hold extensive reserves of underground brine due the unique hydro-geological formation.

The Little Rann is a desert for eight months but turns into a brackish water lake in the four months of the southwest monsoon. Eleven rivers from Saurashtra, North Gujarat and Rajasthan drain here, combining with tidal waters from the Arabian Sea that enter the region via a creek. When the monsoon water dries up by the end of October, Agariya families set up their tenements, dig wells to extract the underground brine and prepare a series of four-five pans — smaller ones for concentration of brine and the largest one for crystallisation of salt. The entire process is hard manual work except for the pump that lifts the brine. Profit margins are miniscule, and the lives of these tribal communities is unenviably harsh.

The saltpans have been a part of the landscape for centuries, but are known to threaten the area’s biodiversity, so salt production in the Little Rann is a double edged sword.

Experiences

At dawn and dusk, the Little Rann is clothed in wonderful hues and it is a joy to view wild ass silhouettes against the setting sun.

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Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)