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Kaziranga National Park

Located in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra river, the Kaziranga National Park is home to the world's largest population of one horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). The annual occurrence of flooding coupled with the ritual of burning grass for centuries have altered the natural landscape of this park. Kaziranga's landscape is now marked by dense grasslands interspersed with open forests, streams and numerous small lakes or water bodies known as bheels. The 858.98 sq km park is spread over Nagaon and Golaghat districts of Assam in northeast India. It is located at a latitude of 26°30' to 26°45'N and longitude of 93°05' to 93°40'E and was first set up as a reserve forest in 1908, which was then converted to a game sanctuary in 1916. In 1950, the park was established as a wildlife sanctuary and by 1974 it was recognised as a national park. In 1985 Kaziranga National Park was accorded the status of a World Heritage Site.

Vegetation in the region is marked by alluvial inundated grasslands and reedbeds, alluvial savanna woodland, tropical moist mixed deciduous forests, tropical wet evergreen forests and tropical semi-evergreen forests. Grasslands predominate in the west, with tall 'elephant' grasses on the higher ground and short grasses on the lower ground surrounding the bheels. Amidst the grasses are numerous forbs and scattered trees of Bombax ceiba, Dillenia indica, Careya arborea and Emblica officinalis. Tropical wet evergreen forests near Kanchanjhuri, Panbari and Tamulipathar blocks are dominated by trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus rumphii, Cinnamomum bejolghota and species of Syzygium. Tropical semi-evergreen forests occur near Baguri, Bimali and Haldibari. Other common trees and shrubs seen in the park include Albizzia procera, Duabanga grandiflora, Lagerstroemia speciosa, Craeteva unilocularis, Sterculia urens, Grewia serrulata, Mallotus philippensis, Bridelia retusa, Aphania rubra, Leea indica and L. umbraculifera. Grass species common here include Saccharum spontaneum, S. naranga, Imperata cylindrica, Erianthus spp., Arundo donax and Phragmites karka.

Besides being home to the world's largest population of greater one horned rhinoceros and Asiatic water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), as many as 15 species of India's threatened Schedule 1 mammals live here. These include mammal species like the capped langur (Trachypithecuc pileatus), hoolock gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock), tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica). Other wildlife seen in the park include sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), otter (Lutra lutra), gur or Indian bison (Bos gaurus), wild pig (Sus scrofa) and hog badger (Arctonyx collaris). Deer species seen here are sambar (Cervus unicolor), swamp deer (Cervus duvaucelii), hog deer (Axis porcinus) and barking deer or Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak).

The many cascading streams and bheels with their large fish population attract thousands of migratory birds. Over 300 species of birds have been identified here including over 100 migrants. In addition to the spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), that have a rookery near Kaziranga village, other birds seen here include black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), Pallas's fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), grey-headed fish eagle (Icthyophaga icthyaetus), Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis), grey peacock pheasant (Polyplectron bicalcaratum) and great hornbill (Buceros bicornis). Besides this the green imperial pigeon (Ducula aenea), silver-breasted broadbill (Serilophus lunatus), Jerdon's bushchat (Saxicola jerdoni) and the black-breasted parrotbill (Paradoxornis flavirostris) too are known to be residents of the park. Species of babblers seen here include slender-billed (Turdoides longirostris), striated babblers (T.earlei) chestnut-capped (Timalia pileatea) and marsh babblers (Pellorneum palustre). Among reptiles water monitors (Varanus salvator), the Indian rock python (Python molurus), common cobra (Naja naja) and king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) are found here.

Though there are no villages inside the national park, tea plantations and 39 villages are located within a radius of 10 km around the park. Communities living around the park include Assamese and Bangladeshi immigrants, and Miri and Nepalese settlers. Most of the villagers are agro-pastoralists, growing rice and herding cattle and buffalo. They depend on the national park for grazing lands for their livestock and for thatch grass for their houses. The Karbi tribes live in the Karbi-Anglong hill district to the south of Kaziranga National Park. Of Mongoloid origin, linguistically, the Karbis belong to the Tibeto-Burman group and are agro-pastoralists who practice a form of slash and burn shifting cultivation called jhum. Their principal crop is rice, and they also rear cows and buffaloes, though they rarely consume milk. Besides, they are also good at spinning and weaving a traditional silk variety called Endi silk.

Kaziranga, a world famous destination for tourists, attracts more than 40,000 visitors annually and has one of the strictest anti-poaching measures for any national park in the country. Poaching of rhinos has come down drastically since the mid-1980s. There are more than 150 anti-poaching camps in the park, with a strong intelligence network keeping a close watch. However, even in the late 1990s, there were several armed conflicts between poachers and forest officials and the forestry staff was seriously affected by poor management. Problems faced by the staff included lack of funds resulting in delayed wages, low staff morale and shortage of equipment. Despite all the security taken, even today, poaching of wild animals, mainly the rhino for its horn remains a serious threat to the park. Besides this, annual flooding and heavy traffic on the national highway are other grave causes of concern. Nearly three-quarters or more of the total area of the park is submerged annually by flooding from the Brahmaputra. The migration of the animals nearby to safer zones makes them vulnerable to poachers. Erosion of the banks by the Brahmaputra river, siltation of the bheels, over growth of invasive species like water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and Mimosa spp., and livestock grazing, seriously affect the ecosystem of the park. Between 1925 and 1986, nearly 50 sq km of land were lost due to river erosion. As a remedial measure, the Forest Department of Assam has proposed that the park area be extended to include the adjacent protected areas in Karbi Anglong, to cover a total area of 1,200 sq km. That would give better protection to rhinos, elephants and tigers and other wildlife in the park.

The presence of significant populations of domesticated species of water buffalo in the park has caused rinderpest outbreaks, making other species like deer also vulnerable to this disease. Another serious concern is that the presence of the domestic water buffalo in the park has caused hybridisation of the wild species present in the park. Besides this, rampages by elephants and other wild animals into nearby villages causing serious human-animal conflicts have caused widespread resentment among the local communities to protection of the park. Community eco-development projects have been directed more towards protecting the animals and improving infrastructure rather than bettering conditions for the community. Even as late as 2002, the absence of a suitable management plan that takes care of the community's needs, especially one that adequately provides for the livelihood, financial and educational needs of the community has seriously affected this World Heritage Site.


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Menon, V. 2003. A field guide to Indian mammals. DK (India) Pvt Ltd and Penguin Book India (P) Ltd. 201 pp.

MoEF. 2004. Building partnerships to support UNESCO World Heritage Programme: India.

WII. 2007. List of protected areas. National Wildlife Database Cell. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.

World Heritage Sites in India-United Nations Environment Programme. . Accessed in March 2008.

ATREE, Tel: 91-80-23530069, 91-80-23533942