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Keoladeo Ghana National Park

The Keoladeo Ghana National Park occupies an area of 28.73 sq km and is nestled at the confluence of the Gambhir and Banganga rivers in Bharatpur district, Rajasthan. It is located at latitude 27°7'6" to 27°6'2"N and longitude 77°29'5''to 77°33'9"E. The park has been named after the Keoladev temple, present inside the park to venerate Lord Shiva. Altitude ranges between 173-176 m above sea level. With an annual average rainfall of 500-700 mm, the landscape is an interesting blend of marshes, woodlands, scrublands, grasslands and denuded saline patches. In 1956, the park was declared a protected area and by 1967, the status of the park was upgraded to that of a reserved forest. However, it was only in 1972 that hunting rights of the Maharaja of Bharatpur were withdrawn. Also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, this protected area was declared a national park in August 1981 and also recognised as a Ramsar site. By 1985, it was accorded the status of a World Heritage Site.

Vegetation in the park is a mix of tropical, dry deciduous forest and dry grassland which are seen in places where the natural forest vegetation has been destroyed. Xerophytic and semi-xerophytic species seen in the area consists predominantly of Acacia nilotica, Prosopis cineraria, Salvadora oleoides, Capparis decidua and C. sepiaria. The park's flora consists of 375 species of angiosperms of which 90 species are wetland species. Herbs form more than 55% of the vegetation in the park. Tree species commonly seen in the forests present in the northeast of the park are kalam or kadam (Mitragyna parvifolia), jamun (Syzygium cuminii), babul (Acacia nilotica) and neem (Azadirachta indica). The open woodlands are dominated by kandi (Prosopis spicigera) and ber (Zizyphus mauritiana). In the scrublands, the species predominantly seen are ber, kair (Capparis decidua) and piloo (Salvadora oleoides and S. persica). Grasses growing abundantly here are khus grass (Veteveria zizanoides), Desmostachya bipinnata and Cynodon dactylon but the commonest species of grass in the park is Paspalum distichum. Sedges like Scirpus tuberosus and Cyperus rotundus occupy border areas of the wetland, which remain flooded for four to six months. Submerged plants such as Hydrilla, Vallisneria, Ceratophyllum and Potamogeton sp., are among the major plants consumed by waterfowl.

Mammalian inhabitants of the park include wild boar (Sus scrofa), golden jackal (Canis aureus), jungle cat (Felis chaus), fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), smooth coated otter (Lutra perspicillata) and leopard (Panthera pardus). Other species of mammals reported here include common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), small Indian civet (Viverricula indica), grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi) and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). Deer species seen here include blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), spotted deer or chital (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), hog deer (A. porcinus) and nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus). Species of primates seen in the park include rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) and langur (Semnopithecus entellus).

From an ornithological perspective, nearly 364 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Keoladeo Ghana National Park has one of the world's highest densities of birds, nesting in a single, small area. When the monsoons are good, nearly one lakh birds choose the park as a breeding spotand these include herons, storks, cormorants and migrant ducks. Migrant ducks common here are gadwall (Anas strepera), northern shoveler (A. clypeata), common teal (A. crecca), cotton pygmy goose (Nettapus coromandelianus), tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) and comb duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos). The park was once famous for being the endangered Siberian crane's winter home (Grus leucogeranus) but no sightings have been reported since 2002. The greater adjutant (Leptopilos dubius) too does not visit the park anymore.

The nesting populations of heronry species fluctuate with the presence of water in the park, which is determined by rainfall and the timely release of water into the park. The park is a major breeding spot for painted storks (Mycteria leucocephala), Asian openbill (Anastomus oscitans) and darters (Anhinga melanogaster). Other water birds seen here in large numbers include the little cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger), great cormorant (P. carbo), Indian cormorant (P. fuscicollis), ruff (Philomachus pugnax), black-headed ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus), common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and green sandpiper (T. ochropus). Birds of prey too can be sighted in large numbers here. During a well-flooded year, as many as 42 species of raptors have been recorded in the park. These include species like osprey (Pandion haliaetus), peregrine (Falco peregrinus), Pallas' sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus), tawny eagle (Aquila rapax), eastern imperial eagle (A. heliaca), greater spotted eagle (A. clanga), and lesser spotted eagle (A. pomarina). Other birds of prey like the crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela), oriental white-backed (Gyps bengalensis) and scavenger or Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) can be easily seen here. Threatened species of birds seen here include Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), spot-billed pelican (P. philippensis), lesser adjutant (L. javanicus), marbled duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris), Baikal teal (Anas formosa), Baer's pochard (Aythya baeri), red kite (Milvus milvus), cinereous vulture (Aegypius monochus) and sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius).

The commonest reptile seen in the park is the Indian rock python (Python molurus). Other reptile species seen in the park include the banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus), green rat snake (Zaocys nigromarginatus), Indian softshell turtle (Aspideretes gangeticus), Indian roofed turtle (Panghsura tectum), flap-shell turtle (Lissemys punctata), crowned river turtle (Hardella thurjii) and monitor lizard (Varanus sp.). With reference to aquatic life in the park, nearly 50 species of fish are found in the park.

Keoladeo Ghana National Park is one of the most intensively studied of all protected areas in India with several scientific studies carried out here. In 1991, the Bombay Natural History Society published the results of a landmark study on wetland ecology of the park carried out over a period of 10 years. The protected area has three distinct divisions: a tourism range, a wildlife range and a flying squad range. The park has a wireless network with eight permanent stations. This effective communication network helps in the prevention and control of fires and other forest offenses. Though grazing of cattle inside the park has been banned since 1982, their presence inside the park is a serious issue for the park management. Feral cattle are confiscated by the park authorities and transported to ravines in the adjoining areas. This has in the past given rise to conflict with the villagers who in retaliation have broken the boundary wall and sometimes even set fire to the grassland areas of the park. The situation is paradoxical because the ban on grazing has led to the overgrowth of an invasive amphibious species of grass called Paspalum distichum, which is choking the water channels. The overgrowth of another non-native species of water hyacinth Icornia species too has led to blocking of some of the water ways.

The lack of an adequate supply of water is another issue of prime concern for the park. The park requires a total of 540 million cubic feet for flooding and this water comes from the Ajan Bandh, the flow being controlled by the Irrigation Department. A management plan that has been recently completed explores some of the water supply options available in greater detail. Suggestions include diverting water from Chambal/Yamuna to the park. Contamination of the water in Ajan Bandh from pesticides used in the neighboring farmlands as well as heavy metal deposits from nearby industries has affected the health of the water birds in the area. Deaths of Eurasian collared or ring doves (Streptopelia chinensis) as well as incidents of birds seen in a dazed state, unable to fly have been reported.

About 21 villages and hamlets are located around the vicinity of the park with an approximate population of 14,500 people. Bharatpur city, with a total population of nearly 150,000 is also located on the periphery of the park. The entire economy of the villages outside the park is based on agriculture and dairy farming. The basic needs of local communities residing in the villages adjoining the park are fodder, fuelwood, small timber, thatching material and non-wood forest produce. Poaching is not a major issue here. On an average nearly 95,000 people visit the park annually, largely for birding while a small percentage of the tourist are picnickers. The park management has allowed cycle rickshaw pullers to operate inside the park, as these are not only ecofriendly but also are a source of livelihood to the community. The cycle rickshaw pullers also double up as naturalists and help the visitors to identify the wintering birds.


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