This protected area has the distinction of being Maharashtra's first wildlife sanctuary, having been registered in 1958. Located on the boundary of Kolhapur and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra, the sanctuary covers 351.16 sq km and is situated between latitudes 73°49' E to 74°03' E and longitudes 16°11'N to 16°29' N. Popularly known as Bison Sanctuary-as the Indian bison or gaur (Bos gaurus) is considered its flagship species- this protected area receives a mean annual rainfall of 2,500 mm (MoEF 2006).
Some of the major rivers that flow through this protected area include Bhagavati, Dudhganga, Tulshi, Kallamma and Dirba. The sanctuary also has two reservoirs, Rajarshi Shahu Sagar and Laxmi Sagar, which were formed when the Radhanagari and Kalammawadi dams were being built (MoEF 2006).
Vegetation in the forests are a mix of southern tropical semi-evergreen, west coast semi-evergreen, southern tropical moist mixed deciduous and west coast tropical wet, evergreen forests (MoEF 2006). With over 1,500 flowering plant species the tropical evergreen rainforests here have high floral diversity (Yadav and Sardesai 2002, Salunkhe and Sardesai 2002). The dense, evergreen rainforest of the western region are locally referred to as dangs or rai. Areas like the Patacha dang have especially large, undisturbed and well preserved tracts of tropical, wet evergreen forests (Salunkhe and Sardesai 2002). The eastern part is characterised by semi-evergreen and moist mixed deciduous forests. Like in the Sahyadri region, which has more than 2,000 devrais or sacred groves, this sanctuary too has a large number of devrais (MoEF 2006).
Species like ironwood tree or anjani (Memecylon umbellatum), pisa (Actinodaphne angustifolia) and chebulic myrobalan or hirda (Terminalia chebula) dominate the landscape here. Fruit trees like mango (Mangifera indica), tummy wood tree or wild guava (Careya arborea) species of ficus, Javan plum or jamun (Syzigium cumini), tallow tree or black kokam tree (Garcinia indica) and other trees belonging to Phyllanthus species, Gela and bibba (Semecarpus anacardium) are also commonly found in this sanctuary. Endangered trees seen here include, narakya or amruta (Mappia foetida), Turpinia malabarica, longan (Euphorbia longana), Elaeocarpus tectorium and tulip wood tree (Harpullia arborea). Among the shrub species, karvi (Strobilanthes callosus or Carvia callosa) can be seen dominating the under-stories.
As many as 47 species of mammals, 59 species of reptiles, 20 species of amphibians, 264 species of birds and 66 species of butterflies have been recorded in the forests of Radhanagari (MoEF 2006). In 2004, a census carried out by the Kolhapur Wildlife Division estimated the gaur (Bos gaurus) population to have risen from 395 to 610 (PA Update 2004). Plans were on to shift some of the gaur from this sanctuary to Raigad and Thane districts (PA Update 2004). Besides the Indian bison or gaur, wild mammals commonly sighted here include, tigers (Panthera tigris), leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), slender loris (Loris lyddekerianus), mouse deer (Moschiola meminna) and Indian pangolins (Manis crassicaudata). A rise in the populations of tiger, leopard (Panthera pardus), bison, barking deer (Muntiacus munjtak), mouse deer, sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) and blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) too has been reported in this sanctuary (PA Update 2002). The evergreen forests of the Patacha dang are especially popular among the Indian giant squirrels (Ratufa indica) and Malabar grey hornbills (Ocyceros griseus) (MoEF 2006).
This sanctuary was designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International and is home to the rare and globally threatened Nilgiri wood-pigeon (Columba elphinstonii). Other species found here include the Ceylon frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger), yellow-browed bulbul (Lole indica), dusky eagle-owl (Bubo coromandus) and great pied hornbill (Buceros bicornis). One of India's most admired songbirds, the Malabar whistlingthrush (Myophonus horsfieldii) too is resident in this sanctuary. Two species endemic to the Western Ghats viz, the small sunbird (Leptocoma minima) and the Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) have also been sighted in this protected area. This sanctuary is a favorite nesting place for the speckled piculet (Picumnus innominatus), Malabar crested lark (Galerida malabarica), and many species of Himalayan birds like the Indian blue robin (Luscinia brunnea) during the winter months (Jathar et al. 2004).
Endangered species of reptiles and amphibians seen in this sanctuary include, Malabar pit viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus), Deccan ground gecko (Geckoella dekkanensis), Gunther's cat skink (Ristella guntheri), Beddome's lacerta (Ophisops beddomei), Bombay bush frog (Philautus bombayensis) and Humayun's wrinkled frog (Nyctibatrachus major) (Jathar et al. 2004).
The sanctuary and neighboring areas are a rich source of bauxite. Open cast bauxite mining has been carried out posing a serious threat to this protected area. Recognising the severe destruction of this fragile ecosystem, in February 1998, the Maharashtra High Court passed a stay order halting bauxite mining operations in the Iderganj plateau. Other threats include, irrigation projects, encroachment of forest land, poaching, over grazing, agriculture and construction of reservoirs (Jathar et al. 2004).
Despite the many threats the sanctuary faces, several tracts of forests still remain intact, since many sacred groves or devrais have been protected as a result of the efforts of the local communities.
Jathar, G., Giri, V and Apte, D. 2004. Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary (Nilgiris). In: Important Bird Areas in India: Priority sites for conservation. (eds Islam, M. Z and Rahmani, A. R).Indian Bird Conservation Network: Bombay Natural History Society and Birdlife International, UK. pp 721-722.
MoEF. 2006. India's Tentative List of Natural Heritage Properties to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. UNESCO, Paris, France.
PA Update. 2002. Population rise in wildlife in Western Ghat sanctuaries. June (36&37).
PA Update. 2004. Gaur from Radhanagari WLS to be shifted to Thane and Raigad districts. June (49):16.
Salunkhe, A. R and Sardesai, S. D. 2002. Management Plan for management of Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary: 2001-02 to 2010-2011. Maharashtra Forest Department, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.
Yadav, S. R and Sardesai, M. M. 2002. Flora of Kolhapur district. Shivaji University, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.