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Kaziranga National Park – The land of Unicorns, Tigers & Rhinos

rhino and cub at kaziranga national park

A place where the forest floor is covered with fronds of ferns, where every tree branch is laden with epiphytes and mosses, where grasses are so high that even an elephant can hide, where most of the creatures spend the whole of their life on trees, this is Kaziranga National Park, a land where Indian One Horned rhinoceros roams freely and safely. Having one horn on their nose, these ancient-looking creatures are also referred to as unicorns of the real world. The great Indian One-Horned Rhino is a species of Rhino, highly endangered and found only in a few isolated populations in India and Nepal. Though they look like Triceratops, a species of dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous period they are not even distantly related to them. Rhinos are mammals, unlike dinosaurs who are reptiles. Kaziranga National Park holds the distinction of having the world’s highest numbers of these creatures.

Kaziranga is a national park, a tiger reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a part of the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve and a proposed Ramsar Site. The toal area of the tiger reserve is 1173.58 sq.. km. which includes 625.58 sq.. km. of core/ critical tiger habitat and 548 sq..km. of buffer/ peripheral area. The reserve is fed by the Brahmaputra River and different channels originated from Karbi-Anglong Hills which is contiguous with the reserve.

 

Etymology of Kaziranga National Park:

There are different legends on how this place got its name. According to one legend that the name of Kaziranga National Park is derived from Karbi language. In Karbi language, Kazi means goat and ranga means red colour, which probably they have used for Hog Deer, found in abundance in Kaziranga. Another legend says that 30th Ahom king Rudra Singh on his way to Guwahati has spent a night in the house of village chief Ranjit Phukan. Phukan’s daughter Kamala has gifted a hand-woven jacket to him, impressed by her skill he called her Kazi which means an expert and gifted Rongai and a land to her husband. Then local people started calling that land as Kaziranga National Park. According to some historians, the name was derived from the Karbi word Kajir-a-rong which means village of Kajir.

 

History of Conservation at Kaziranga National Park:

Known for the population of Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park has a long history of conservation. The land and its inhabitant were protected by local community which believed only in sustainable harvesting in the form of hunting. The rhinos were well protected in the area owe to their unique appearance as mythical creatures. The place was very popular among trophy hunters and conservationists alike, and this attracts visitors from all corners of the world. In 1904 Lord Curzon the viceroy of India and his wife Mary Curzon visited the Kaziranga National Park to see the Rhinos, but to their surprise, they could not locate one and even not a single sign of rhinos was found. Lady Curzon realized that the wildlife of the region needs immediate intervention otherwise we would lose them forever.

 

one horned rhino & cub at kaziranga

 

She requested her husband to intervene and take some effective measures to protect the last remaining population of the rhinos. Resultant the 232 sq. km area of Kaziranga was declared a Proposed Reserve Forest in 1905 which later upgraded to the status of a reserve forest in 1908 by adding 152 sq Km more area. It was designated as Kaziranga Game Sanctuary in 1916 which was open for visitors in 1937. In 1950 after independence the word game has been replaced with wildlife and it was named Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary. Eighteen years later in 1968 it got the full protection status as Kaziranga National Park after expanding the area to 430 sq km. Recognizing the value of biodiversity, local cultural beliefs, and traditional knowledge UNESCO declared Kaziranga a world heritage site in 1985. In the year 2008, the Union and the state government decided to declare it a Tiger Reserve, thanks to its dense tiger population.

 

Kaziranga as the Hot Spot:

This hot spot is not related to the internet but is a hotspot that is necessary for our survival, yes it is a biodiversity hotspot, which indicates the diversity among the biological system. Kaziranga National Park is a part of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity hotspot. An Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot is one of the largest hot-spot among 36 hot spots worldwide. It has many endemic elements, in India it covers the whole of North-East. The hot spot represents the convergence of many distinctive, temperate, tropical and subtropical regions namely Indian, Sundaic, Sino-Himalayan and Indochinese, due to which it has extraordinary species richness.

 

Kaziranga as the habitat:

The reserve is dotted with several shallow oxbow lakes which are locally called Beel. These are the relicts of old channels and also some lakes are formed by an earthquake. Some of these lakes are silted and form marshes and swamps. The vegetation of Kaziranga is of mainly three types: Alluvial inundated grassland, alluvial savannah woodland, eastern dillenia swamp forests, riparian fringing forests, tropical wet evergreen forests, and tropical wet semi-evergreen forests. Almost 60% of Kaziranga is covered with grasslands which is more prominent towards the western side with tall elephant grass on the higher areas and short grasses on the lower side surrounding the Beel. The water bodies and grasslands form a significant part of the habitat in Kaziranga. The composition of different habitat types in Kaziranga is as follows: Wetlands cover 7%, grasslands 57%, (tall grass 52% short grass/ marshes 5%), sand 7%, and woodland 29%.

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Flora at Kaziranga:

Being a part of Indo-Burma hotspot Kaziranga is rich in terms of floral diversity. Plant families particularly Orchidaceae and Dipterocarpaceae are known for their high species richness in this hotspot. The state tree of Assam state where Kaziranga is located is a magnificent Dipterocarp, which is commonly called ‘Hollong’. Hollong is quite common in wet evergreen forests part of Kaziranga. Grasslands make a major part of Kaziranga with grasses as high as 5-6 meter tall. The annual flood and control burning prevented the woodland from encroaching and to ensure a supply of grazing land for the herbivore population. Bamboo-leaved Galangal (Alpinia nigara) grows abundantly in grassland.  The dominant high grass species are, Saccharum spontaneum, Saccharum naranga, Imperata cylindrical, Erianthus spp. Arundo donax and Phrgmites karka. In savannah woodland, the most common tree is Silk Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba) while in the swamp forest Elephant Apple (Dillenia indica), Wild Guava (Careya arborea) and Amla (Emblica officinalis) is more common.

 

Fauna at Kaziranga:

  1. Mammals – Kaziranga Tiger Reserve is very diverse in terms of faunal diversity. It contains 35 species of Mammals including 15 threatened species cover under schedule 1 of wildlife protection act of India. Major carnivore species are tiger, leopard and sloth bears. Major herbivore species is Elephant, Rhino, wild Buffalo, Swamp Deer, Hog Deer, Sambar Deer, Barking Deer and Wild Boar. Kaziranga National Park is also known for its primates, it has small population of Western Hoolock Gibbon (India’s only ape) found easily in evergreen forest patches, apart from that Bengal Slow Loris, Assamese Macaque, Capped Langur and Rhesus Macaque also found here. In small mammals Eurasian Otter, Smooth Coated Otter, Hog Badger, Indian Crested Porcupine and Black Giant Sq.uirrel are common.
  2. Reptiles – In reptiles it has endangered Assam Roof Turtle and King Cobra apart from other snakes and turtles. Other common species of reptiles are, Cat snake, Python, Bengal Monitor, Indian Softshell Turtle, Indian Flapshell Turtle, Peacock Softshell Turtle, Spotted Pond Turtle, Indian Roofed Turtle,
  3. Avifauna – Kaziranga National Park is a paradise for birdwatchers, there are more than 500 species of birds. There are 27 threatened species. Kaziranga National Park is one of the outstanding IBA (Important Bird Areas) especially for birds of tall, wet grasslands. Out of 500 species, more than 200 birds are residents, rest are migrants including local migrants. Some of the resident birds are, Spot Billed Pelicans, Lesser Adjutant, Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Black-Breasted Parrotbill, Great Hornbill and Finn’s Weaver. The birds like Himalayan Rubythroat, Chestnut Crowned Bush Warbler, Brown- Headed Gull, Grey-backed Shrike and Slaty Blue Flycatcher are winter migrant including some water-birds. Kaziranga National Park is famous for its water-bird population especially Bar-headed Goose. They arrived here in thousands. In a count more than 20,000 waterbirds were recorded with 2000-3000 Bar Headed Goose.

 

one horned rhino eating grass in kaziranga

 

Big five of the Kaziranga National Park:

Kaziranga National Park is known for its big five, the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, Asiatic Wild Buffalo, Bengal Tiger, and Eastern Swamp Deer are big five of Kaziranga. The park has the world’s largest population of Indian one-horned Rhinoceros, almost 70% population of them exist in Kaziranga National Park. Also, the population of Asiatic Wild Buffalo is the largest in Kaziranga National Park. It also has a significant population of Asian Elephants. Kaziranga National Park holds the distinction of having the highest density of tigers in the world (1 per 5 sq. km). According to the last census, there are around 135 tigers in Kaziranga National Park. Eastern Swamp Deer is a subspecies of Swamp Deer of the Terai arc landscape. The last remaining population of them is only found in Kaziranga National Park and Manas national park (Recently Introduced).

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Conservation Challenges at Kaziranga National Park:

Though Kaziranga National Park is one of the best-managed parks in Asia, it has its own challenges. National Highway 715 which connects Tezpur and Jorhat passes through Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong and the accident of wild animals on this highway is a regular phenomenon. Recurring flood in Brahmaputra is a natural phenomenon in Kaziranga National Park that poses a threat to wild animals, especially small animals. During flood animals move to high ground towards Karbi Anglong Hills for which they have to cross the highway, which causes cases of accidents. Poaching of Rhino horn is another big challenge in Kaziranga National Park, though the park management is trying their best to keep a check on it but it proves to be a big management issue for them.

 

one horned rhino safari in kaziranga national park

 

Thanks to the effective patrolling by the forest department which keeps the cases of poaching under control but still occasional poaching cases are reported. Other challenges are pollution from tea gardens, invasion by Mimosa Weed, proposed Railway lines etc.

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