National Parks and Sanctuaries : Andamans and Nicobars
Situated in the Bay of Bengal the 500 islands comprising the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago are a continuation of the Arakan Yoma Range in Burma. Their long isolation from the Asian mainland is reflected in the high degree of endemism with 32 mammals (including marine mammals) and as many as 99 sub-species or endemic birds being recorded here. Besides 27 species of reptiles are found only on these islands. The sandy beaches of the islands are favoured nesting spots for marine turtles such as the Leatherback, Green Sea, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley. The islands are also home to six indigenous tribes whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. While their numbers have suffered from outside contact, the local flora and fauna has suffered from over-development and introduction of exotics.

Tourism is fairly restricted and December to March is the best season.
Comprising of 500 islands, the archipelago of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands form a veritable treasure trove of Nature. This is reflected in the fact that ninety-six of the islands have been declared Wildlife Sanctuaries, nine are National Parks and one is a Biosphere Reserve. The long isolation of these islands from the Asian mainland has resulted in a high degree of endemism in flora and fauna.

The ancient links with the mainland continue to find an echo in odd behaviour patterns, triggered perhaps by residual instincts, such as the abortive migration of the Narcondam hornbills.

The story of colonization in modern times essentially constitutes the recorded history of these islands since the traditions of the indigenous peoples await collation and interpretation. There is evidence to suggest that European ships stopped here to replenish water in the 18th century and a vain bid by the British in 1788 to establish a settlement marks the islands’ earliest, if ephemeral, appearance on the historical scene. It wasn’t until 1857 that these islands re-emerged from their seclusion this time in the guise of a notorious penal colony established in Port Blair - a place of deadly exile across the ‘kaalapani’ (black water) for those that dared challenge the domination of the British. It was here that the infamous Cellular jail was built to house those Indian patriots and freedom fighters sentenced to perish in 'Kalapaani' as the Islands now came to be known.

During the Second World War, following the fall of Singapore, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were captured by the Japanese and marked the western rim of their conquests in the Indian Ocean. Today these islands, positioned closer to Indonesia than to India, constitute a vital element in India’s maritime strategic posture. For not only do they dominate important sea-lanes, but they also give India economic control over a vast stretch of unexplored seabed.

Six tribes inhabit these islands. While their origins and history are shrouded in mystery, these tribes like most other indigenous, isolated groups have suffered due to contact with the wider world.

The Andamanese were the first to come into contact with the British and possibly suffered more from the diseases brought in by the settlers, after friendly relations were established than from the initial skirmishes. They also lost their forest home to settlers and from an estimated population of 5000 in 1857 their numbers have crashed to between 40 and 50 today.

The Onge inhabit the Little Andaman Island, but they too lost heavily to outside contact and their numbers stand drastically reduced at around 100 today.

While the Sentinalese still violently resist efforts at contact, the Jarawas are no longer as hostile as they use to be 10 years ago

The Jarawas and the Sentinalese still violently resist efforts at contact.

The Shompens numbering around 382 are a Mongoloid tribe and greatly dependant on the forests of the Central highlands of Great Nicobar Island. Their numbers were always thought to be low and road constructions have affected the long-term survival of this group of people.

The Nicobarese are said to have integrated well and are today engaged in plantation and horticulture activities. They are concentrated on all the Nicobar group of Islands.

The Karens,a hunter-gatherer tribe from Myanmar, were brought in by the British as labour. Today these people are settled on the Middle Andaman Island and mainly involved with agriculture related activities, besides being expert hunters and fisherfolk, with an excellent knowledge of the rainforest and the seas.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are located in the Bay of Bengal off the eastern coast of India. They are considered to be the peaks of a submerged mountain range which is the continuation of the Arakan Yoma Range in Burma. The ridges here run North to South and the terrain is mostly undulating with a few flat areas and numerous perennial streams. The soil here is relatively poor and ground water scarce. Most of the islands are long and narrow, not much over 20 km at their widest.

Latitude: 6°45'N - 13°41' N
Longitude: 92°12'E - 93°57' E

Area of Andaman district 6408
Area of Nicobar district 1841

Total Area: 8249
There has been considerable re-configuration of the landscape post the December 2004 tsunami, with some islands being lost forever. If you wish to read more about this you could check the following link out.

Number of islands 349
Total coastline 1962 km
Forest cover 7615

Elevation: The two highest points are Saddle Peak (732m)in North Andaman Island and Mount Harriet (365m) in South Andaman Island. Mount Thuillier (568m) in Great Nicobar Island is the highest peak in the Middle Group of Islands.

Climate: Mean annual rainfall 3250mm
Humidity 77-85%

Temperatures vary from a high of 36 °C to 17 °C

According to Champion & Seth, there are 12 forest types occurring in the Andaman & Nicobar group of islands. These include the Giant evergreen forest. Andamans tropical evergreen forest, Southern hilltop tropical evergreen forest, Cane brakes,Wet bamboo brakes, Andamans semi-evergreen forest, Andamans moist deciduous forest, Andamans secondary moist deciduous forest, Littoral forest, Mangrove forest, Brackish water mixed forest and Submontane hill valley swamp forest.

Of 62 mammal species recorded here (7 of which are marine mammals) 32 are endemic to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Common amongst these are the Andaman Wild pig (Sus scrofa andamanensis),Crab eating Macaque (Macaca fascicularis umbrosa) and Andaman masked palm Civet (Paguma larvata tytlerii) etc. The marine mammals include the Dugong (Dugong dugon),Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)and Sperm Whales. Some of the smaller mammals found here are the Andaman Spiny Shrew (Crocidura andamanensis),Nicobar Tree Shrew (Tupaia nicobarica nicobarica) and bats like the Andaman horse-shoe bat (Rhinophus cognaatus famulus)and the Lesser short nosed bat (Cynopterus brachiotis brachysoma).

A number of exotics have been introduced. These include domestic cats, dogs and goats,5 striped palm squirrel, Chital (Cervus axis), Hog deer (Axis porcinus) and Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) and the Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), besides birds like the Common Mynah, Grey Partridge, House Sparrow and Common Peafowl. The British introduced the Chital in the early 1900s. With virtually no natural predators, except for crocodiles and human beings, these have multiplied rapidly and are a serious hindrance to forest regeneration. Elephants were introduced in the 1960s and there is a breeding herd of 30-40 animals in Interview Island and another 14 in the west of North Andaman.



The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have a rich diversity of birds which are a magnet for ornithologists and birdwatchers. As in mammals, there is a high degree of endemism and of the 246 species, as many as 99 are sub-species or endemics. Some important species are Andaman Teal, Megapode, Narcondam Hornbill, Nicobar Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Nicobar Parakeet, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Edible nest Swiftlet and Emerald Dove.

77 species of reptiles are found here, of which 8 are marine. 27 species of reptiles are found only in these islands. The sandy beaches of the islands are favoured nesting spots for marine turtles. The four species of turtles found here are the Leatherback, the Green Sea, the Hawksbill and the Olive Ridley. The only non-marine turtle, the Malayan box Turtle is found in the Nicobar Islands.
The salt water or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the only crocodile species found here.The Water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator andamanises) is an endemic subspecies and attains a length of about 3m from nose to tail. Out of 40 species of snakes recorded here, 10 are venomous. These include the King Cobra,Andaman Cobra, Pit Vipers,Andaman Krait and sea-snakes. The Reticulate Python is the largest of the non-poisonous snakes and is found only in the Nicobar islands.

Best time to visit
December- March. The period between April to November is best avoided, as this is the rainy season.

How to get there
There are regular flights from Chennai to Port Blair and at least 4 times a week from Calcutta.
Distance from Port Blair to Calcutta : 1255 kms
Distance from Port Blair to Chennai : 1190 kms
It is also possible to travel by ship from Chennai and Calcutta, which have crafts departing about 4 times a month. Vishakapatnam, which is about 1200 km from Port Blair also, has a monthly ship departure. The journey time is approximately 50 -66 hours to Port Blair, from any of these starting points.

Entry formalities
Foreign nationals require a permit to visit the Islands.This can be obtained at Port Blair on arrival and is valid for 30 days. Permits can also be obtained from Indian Missions Overseas, and the Foreigners Registration Offices at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. Indian nationals do not need permits to visit the Andamans.
The Nicobar Islands are pretty much out of bound for all tourists, both Indian and international.

© Harry V Andrews
77 species of reptiles are found here, of which 8 are marine. 27 species of reptiles are found only in these islands. The sandy beaches of the islands are favoured nesting spots for marine turtles. The four species of turtles found here are the Leatherback, the Green Sea, the Hawksbill and the Olive Ridley. The only non-marine turtle, the Malayan box Turtle is found in the Nicobar Islands.

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