Guide to exploring the uncelebrated colors of Wild Goa and its Wildlife Sanctuaries!

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Goa, the coastal state revered for its beach parties, scrumptious cuisine, interesting colonial history, and splendid waters has a hidden secret. It is home to vast biodiversity that inhabits the tropical forests of the Western Ghats that not many travelers know about and those who do rarely explore further. If you take a step back and make your way inland towards the eastern part of Goa, you will find that there’s so much more to Goa than the world thinks!

Wildlife Sanctuaries are protected areas that have been formed to preserve various species of animals, birds, reptiles, and other wild creatures; and Goa has seven of them. In fact, as most of the sanctuaries in Goa are set in the Western Ghats, it is the only state that has protected the entire stretch of the mountain range within its borders. Thick and lush green forest cover in the region has created an environment suitable for hundreds of species of flora and fauna. All you nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, animal lovers, bird watchers, and conservationists will discover so much and be bewitched by the beauty of nature here. Below are a few wildlife sanctuaries in Goa that are worth visiting for anyone who enjoys spending time surrounded by nature.

Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary

Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over an area of just 8 square kilometers in the Ponda district of Goa where it gazes up at the western ghats. Its compact size makes exploring the sanctuary manageable and exciting for everyone; kids and adults, travelers, and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

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List of Animals at Bondla Zoo

A lush deciduous forest covers the sanctuary with occasional evergreen vegetation here and there, creating a cozy habitat for numerous birds, reptiles, and wild mammals. The Indian Bison, Panther, Sambhar deer, Leopard, jungle cat, wild boar, porcupine, toddy cat, scaly anteater, and the Malabar Giant Squirrel are some of the animals you might come across on your tour to Bondla. Birds like the golden-backed woodpecker, the Indian peafowl, ruby-throated yellow bulbul, and the common grey hornbill thrive in this wildlife sanctuary.

During the migratory season, many rare species of birds liven up the sanctuary as flocks of them take up residence here for a while. If you are an ornithologist or a curious bird watcher, you’ll be spellbound in case you visit the sanctuary during winters to observe and learn.

Nature lovers visiting Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary can either explore it in one day or stay overnight in the eco-tourism cottages to explore even the diverse flora and fauna more. Besides the animals and birds roaming inside the vicinity of the sanctuary, you can also indulge in some popular activities like a safari in the Deer safari park where you can encounter the hog deer, spotted deer, barking deer, and mouse deer.

Adventure enthusiasts on the lookout for their next exciting activity can go on hiking or trekking on a number of nature trails across the sanctuary that are led by experienced guides. The sanctuary also has a botanical garden, a rehabilitation center, and a zoological park that is fascinating for many tourists, especially children and families.

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Elephant at Bondla – Photo: Pontus Eriksson

October to April is the most suitable time to visit Bondla as the weather is pleasant and you can have an excellent experience in the wildlife safari. May till September sees the Summer and Monsoon seasons during which the temperature is high, humidity is at its peak and no one likes trekking or going on a safari in heavy rains! The sanctuary is open from 9 am to 5 pm on all days except Thursday.

Entry fee

The entry fees are Rs. 20 for a child and Rs. 50 for an adult with extra charges for photography/videography cameras.

Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary

Situated in the northern part of Goa in the Western Ghats, Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is comparatively newer than other sanctuaries in the state and is also one of the largest, covering a vast area of 208 square kilometers ensuring the safety of the diverse plant and animal life that calls it home. Replete with exotic flora and fauna and boasting a wonderful topography, this sanctuary attracts nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, ornithologists, and adventure enthusiasts.

Recent sightings of the Royal Bengal Tiger in Mhadei have encouraged conservationists and authorities to consider the sanctuary a “Project Tiger” tiger reserve like Jim Corbett National Park, Kaziranga National Park, Periyar Tiger Reserve, and Nagarhole National Park among several others. An astounding number of birds are known to breed and house here which is why the sanctuary was declared as an International Bird Area.

The diverse species of wild animals and reptiles you’ll come across are the barking deer, India gaur, Asian palm civet, small Indian civet, ruddy mongoose, wild boar, Indian hare, sambhar deer, and our distant relatives (just kidding!), the Bonnet Macaque and the black-faced langur. But, there are a few animals that shy away from roaming in the open in front of people, and spotting them is quite rare so, keep those peepers open! These include big cats like Black Panther, Royal Bengal Tiger, and Leopard along with others like the flying squirrel, giant squirrel, mouse deer, sloth bear, Indian pangolin, and slender loris. Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a whopping 255 species of birds and 257 species of butterflies as well as the ‘big four’ of the reptilian family of Indian venomous snakes – Spectacled Cobra, Russell’s Viper, Indian Krait, and Saw-scaled viper.

Besides all these captivating animals and birds, there are a few other sights worth visiting and activities that one can indulge in on their visit to Mhadei. The hiking trails in the sanctuary lead to picturesque waterfalls as Vazra Sakla falls and Virdi falls as well as some fantastic spots for rock climbing and bouldering. Adventure seekers can get their adrenaline pumping as they face class 2 and class 3 rapids while white water rafting in the Mhadei river.

Best Time to Visit Mhadei Sanctuary

Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is 60 km away from Panjim as well as Margao. The optimal time to visit is between October and March. The weather during winters is quite pleasant and suitable for treks, safaris, and bird spotting. It is open from 8 am to 5:30 pm and no entry charges need to be paid.

Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park

Gracefully carrying the title of the largest wildlife reserve in Goa, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary is situated at the foothills of the Western Ghats and covers an impressive 240 square kilometers in eastern Goa. Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1969 to protect the immense biodiversity of the region, a core area of 107 square kilometers was declared as a national park in 1978 known today as the Mollem National Park. So, when you visit Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, be ready to experience the sanctity and freshness of nature at its best!

As you venture into the sanctuary to explore the wildlife, you will be surrounded by dense tropical green forest all around. The greenery makes one feel like they are being hugged tightly by mother nature so all animal lovers, nature lovers, and wildlife enthusiasts have a great time discovering the vast biodiversity of the sanctuary.

Wildlife at Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary

Animal life roaming the immense area of this wildlife sanctuary and the national park includes several majestic creatures some of whom fall under the rare species category. Depending on when you are visiting, how calm and observant you can be during the safari, and more than anything, your luck, you can spot beasts like the Royal Bengal Tiger, Black Panther, and Leopard. The former is a bold animal but the latter two are very shy and prefer their privacy hence a panther or leopard sighting is equivalent to hitting the jackpot!

You can also hope to spot several other animals like the common otter, lesser Indian civet, flying squirrel, giant squirrel, slender loris, sloth bear, jackal, hyena, and wild hog among others. As most wildlife sanctuaries in Goa run along the Western Ghats and are set amidst their foothills, a large number of species of birds, reptiles, and animals are found in more than one wildlife preservation area. Bird lovers should brace themselves as the diversity in the species of birds spotted in this national park won’t let them bat an eyelid. Keep your eyes peeled and you might come across the Golden Oriole, Great Pied Hornbill, Malabar Trogon, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-rumped Spine Tail, Jungle Owlet, Ashy Wood Swallow, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Olive-backed Pipit, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Forest Wagtail, and the Scarlet Minivet. Quite the lineup isn’t it?

Species of snakes

A number of species of snakes and captivating butterflies also thrive in the region. The vibrant colors of butterfly species like blue Mormon, Common Mormon, crimson rose, common jezebel, tailed jay, southern birdwing, and plain tiger are captivating. Endemic species like the Tamil Yeoman and Malabar tree nymph have also been sighted here. Our reptilian friends slithering around the grounds of the sanctuary include the Malabar pit viper, Russell’s viper, India rock python, common krait, bronze-backed tree snake, and the legendary King Cobra.

Apart from discovering such an extensive array of wildlife, you can try your hand at a few other exciting activities that the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary has to offer. If you are a thrill-seeking adventure enthusiast then you will certainly immerse yourself in experiencing these distinguished attractions. There are quite a few exciting nature trails that you can trek on that will take you through thick forest cover and offer beautiful sights of flora and fauna thriving in their habitat.

Waterfalls at Mollem National Park

Dudhsagar Waterfall is extremely popular as one of the highest plunge waterfalls in the country and transforms into a mesmerising natural wonder during monsoons. The Devil’s Canyon is an enigma that many tourists are fascinated by as well as the 900-year-old Tambdi Surla temple that has impressive stonework and carvings.

Best Time to Visit Mollem Park

The sanctuary is open throughout the year as people visit during different seasons to indulge in activities that are most suited for particular weather but, October to March is the optimal time to explore. It is around 53km from Margao and the same from Panjim and hiring a cab or renting a bike/car will get you there in an hour and a half at the most.

Cotigao (Khotigao) Wildlife Sanctuary

If you are one of those who like to laze around on the quaint beaches in South Goa and sip on cocktails or beers, then it’s time for you to get moving. Any person who cherishes the time they spend amidst nature should plan a visit to the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary when in South Goa. Situated in the Canacona district adjacent to the Goa-Karnataka border, Cotigao is a one-day getaway from Palolem beach, it’s white sand, and the sea.

Spread over 86 square kilometers, the sanctuary houses deciduous vegetation along with evergreen patches in a few places. The thick forest has trees as tall as 30 meters form a canopy that only let tiny rays of sunshine pass through offering a wonderful sight for visitors on a safari. You can expect to see animals like the flying squirrel, Indian pangolin, four-horned antelope, slender loris, mouse deer as well as birds and reptiles like the Malabar Trogon, speckled piculet, velvet-fronted nuthatch, Malayan bittern, white-bellied woodpecker, heart-spotted woodpecker, Draco (flying lizard), hump-nosed pit viper, golden-back gliding snake, and the Malabar tree toad. If you are a true animal lover and wildlife safari enthusiast, you will be more observant than others and could possibly spot shy animals like the panther, sloth bears, hyenas, gazelles, and porcupines who rarely give up the privacy they have in the dense part of the jungle.

How to Reach Cotigao?

You also get the opportunity to meet aboriginals from the ancient tribes of Goa like the Kunbil and Velip and get an understanding of their culture and way of life. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary is approximately 90 km from Panjim and one can take a bus from Panjim till Poinguinim and a connecting bus from there till the sanctuary. It is a mere 12 km from Palolem so renting a cab or a motorcycle for the day will suffice.