The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, February 2, 2003

Kaziranga: An oasis for wildlife
V. P. Prabhakar

The Kaziranga National Park is home to the one-horned rhino
The Kaziranga National Park is home to the one-horned rhino

HOME of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros (unicornis), the Kaziranga National Park, Assam is unique among Indian wildlife habitats.

Situated about 217 km from Guwahati, capital of Assam, the world’s largest population of rhinoceros lives here. Although there are other animals and birds too but the concentration is more on the protection of this animal. In fact, Kaziranga can also be described as an oasis for wildlife.

Spread over an area of 430 sq km, the park is bounded by the mighty Brahmaputra on the north and verdant, hills of Karbi Anglong on the south. This park has no boundary wall and a rough oval shape. It lies on the south bank of Brahmaputra and its south side boundary follows (for the most part) the Mori Diffaloo river is close and to National Highway No. 37, the main arterial highway in Assam.

The whole area is one of vast swaps interspersed with elephant grass, open forest, waterways, and reed beds. According to the Director, a feature of many of the bheels is the excessive growth of the water hyacinth, a plant exotic to the park but introduced into it for some unknown reason. Karbi Anglong Hills have a special significance as the wildlife seek refuge on the hills when virtually the whole park becomes inundated by the flood waters of the Brahmaputra and the other rivers during monsoon every year, much wildlife is lost at that time.

The Director of the park told the visiting mediapersons that there are both advantages and disadvantages of the recurring floods. With the flood waters, the bheels are recharged and this water is used by animals and birds throughout the year. Unwanted plants are also washed away by floods. The loss is that many animals are lost. The Director said that in 1998 the furry of floods was so much that the people kept a large number of animals in their houses for their protection.


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Of the world natural heritage sites, five such sites are in India. Out of these five, two such sites are in Assam. They are the Kaziranga National Park and the Manas Tiger Project, for the protection of tigers. The world’s largest population of Indian one-horned rhinoceros (70 per cent). Wild buffalo (50 per cent) and swamp deer (65 per cent) are in the Kaziranga National Park. There were 1164 Indian one-horned rhinoceros and 1034 Asiatic wild buffalo in the park in 1993. The figure of the rhino in 1999 was of 1200. The number of elephant was 982 and tigers 804 in 1997. There were 526 swamp deer in 1993.

As regards history of the park it is said that lady Curzon first heard about rhino of Kaziranga from her British tea planter friends and came to Assam in 1904-5. According to a book, Discover North-East, although she could not see the animal she spotted hoof prints with three toes, which convinced Lady Curzon that such an animal did exist. On her return she persuaded Lord Curzon to do something to save this animal from total annihilation. Hence, a preliminary notification announcing the intention of the government to declare 57,273,60 acres of Kaziranga as a reserved forest was issued. Finally, Kaziranga was declared as reserved forest on January 3, 1908 and was officially closed for shooting.

On January 28, 1913, according to the book, the area of reserved forest was expanded and Kaziranga was declared a "Game Sanctuary" on November 10, 1938. The then conservator of forests, AJW Milroy, stopped all poaching and opened Kaziranga to tourists. However, in 1950 the name was changed to "wildlife sanctuary" as the word "game" connotated animals for hunting. On February 11, 1974. It was declared "Kaziranga National Park. It was listed a world heritage site in 1985.

The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food, including fish, and thousands of migratory birds, representing over 100 species, visit the park seasonally from as far a field as Siberia. About 300 different species of avifauna are there in the park, most prominent among them being cormorants, herons, egrets, storks, pelicans, hornbills, ducks, pheasants, partridges, parakeets etc.

The greed of the people is the main reason for rampant poaching. The price of even of single horn of the rhino varies from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 14 lakh in the international market. Traditionally, the use of rhino horn is made in medicines and perfumes. However, he said that it has now been proved that there is no medicinal quality in it.

The people are emotional and they generally do not come in the park. Even though the duty of the workers and employees of the park are very difficult, still their spirits are always high. This is why, according to the Director, the poachers are caught. Moreover, on an average about 25 to 30 staff members are rewarded for meritorious performance every year and these rewards are given at the state level. A Range Officer was bestowed with ‘Fred Packard Velour Award of I.U.C.N’s, world Commission on Protected Areas, in 1997. The park also got the best managed national park award in 1985. The Director claimed that this is still considered to be the best-managed park in the country.

About 130 high machans have been built in the park from where the entire area could be watched and monitored. The staff has been given wireless sets and guns but the poachers generally have modernised weapons. He said that the department is trying to get 928 square km additional area for the park.

He said that about 50 villages are located on the banks of Brahmaputra. The people says that these villagers have encroached upon the land of the park but it is not correct, said the Director. In order to make them eco-friendly, the department tries to help these villagers off and on.

Visitors can go round the park, of course with permission, either on trained elephants or drive around its roads in vehicles accompanied by guards of the Forest Department. Of course, one is supposed to pay for every thing. Although the elephants move slowly but there are chances to get closer to wildlife. The area is so vast that without the guard, one is bound to lose her way. Even the guards do not move during the night and prefer to stay at the machan.

If nature and the Brahmaputra had not designed such a varied habitat, it would have been impossible for man to create such a national park which is suited to such a vast variety of wildlife. It is also rightly said that a visitor’s trip to Assam will not be considered complete if he does not pay visit to this national park.