Kaziranga National Park (26º40'N, 93º22'E) is a World Heritage Site that is one of the last areas in eastern India almost undisturbed by man. It is a forest-edged riverine grassland maintained by fire and annual floods inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses, as well as a wide diversity of animals, including tigers, elephants, leopards, bears, several species of deer and thousands of birds.
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
1985: Inscribed on the World Heritage list under Natural Criteria ix and x.
Situated on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra River at the foot of the Mikir / Karbi Anglong Hills, about 8 kilometers (km) from Bokakhat and 220 km east of Gauhati, the Assam state capital. National Highway No. 37 forms the southern boundary. 26°30'-26°45'N, 93°05'-93°40'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1908: Originally established as a reserved forest to protect the one-horned rhinoceros.
- 1916: Designated a game reserve.
- 1938: Opened to the public in 1938.
- 1950: Designated a Wildlife Sanctuary.
- 1954: Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act passed;
- 1969: First notification as a national park.
- 1974: Final notification issued.
State, in Golaghat and Naogaon districts. Administered by the Assam Forest Department.
37,822 hectares (ha). Originally 42,996ha: ~5,114ha lost to erosion of the northern boundary by the Brahmaputra. An addition of some 45,450ha is proposed to include the Brahmaputra River to the north and part of the Mikir Hills to the south.
Ranges from 40 meters (m) to 80 m. South of the park the Mikir Hills rise to about 1,220 m.
The Park is 40km long by 13km wide. It lies in the flood plain of the Brahmaputra River, sloping very gradually from east to west against a backdrop of the foothills and snow-covered peaks of the eastern Himalayas. The riverine habitat consists primarily of dense tall grassland interspersed with open forests, interconnecting streams and numerous small flood-formed lakes or bheels which cover some 5% of its area. The whole park is occasionally flooded for 5-10 days, and three-quarters of the western, Baguri, area is annually submerged. The soils are alluvial. The wetlands are described by Scott.
Three seasons can be distinguished. Summer, which is dry and windy, extends from mid-February to May with mean maximum and minimum temperatures of 37°Celsius (C) and 7°C, respectively. The monsoon occurs from June to September when conditions are hot and humid. Most of the mean annual rainfall of 2220 millimeters (mm) falls during this season. During winter, from November to March, conditions are mild and dry, and mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 25°C and 5°C.
There are four main types of vegetation: alluvial inundated grasslands and reedbeds, alluvial savanna woodland, tropical moist mixed deciduous forests and tropical semi-evergreen forests. Based on Landsat data for 1986, coverage by different vegetation types is as follows: tall grasses 41%, short grasses 11%, open jungle 29%, rivers and water bodies 8%, sand 6% and swamps 4%.
Grasslands predominate in the west, with dense thickets of 5-6 meter tall elephant grasses on the higher ground and short grasses which provide good grazing on the lower ground around the bheels. These have been maintained and fertilised by annual flooding and controlled burning for thousands of years which has prevented the woodland from encroaching, and ensures a supply of grazing land. However, the occasional high floods can devastate the smaller fauna. Among the different high grass species, Saccharum spontaneum, S.naranga, Imperata cylindrica, Erianthus spp.,Arundo donax and Phragmites karka predominate.
Among the grasses are numerous forbs and scattered trees of Bombax ceiba a dominant of savanna woodland, Dillenia indica in the swamp forest, Careya arborea and Emblica officinalis. The impenetrable semi-evergreen forest in the central and eastern areas are dominated by trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus rumphii, Cinnamomum bejolghota, and species of Syzygium. In the tropical semi-evergreen forests common trees and shrubs are Albizia procera, Duabanga grandiflora, Lagerstroemia speciosa, Crateva unilocularis, Sterculia urens, Grewia serrulata, Mallotus philippensis, Bridelia retusa, Aphania rubra, Leea indica and L. umbraculifera. There is a wide variety of aquatic flora along river banks and in the numerous pools; the destructive invader water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes is often cleared out by high floods.
The park contains about 35 major mammals, including 15 of India's threatened Schedule I species. It harbours the world's largest population of Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis, which has increased from a few dozen in 1908, some 670 in 1972, 1,100 in 1988 to a more recent number, despite some 200 losses to poaching in the 1990s, of 1,500. Indian elephant Elephas maximus, estimated at 430 in 1972 were said to number 1,100 in 1996 and 1,092 in 2004.
Other mammals include a small population of hoolock gibbon Bunipithecus hoolock, capped langur Presbytis pileata, bristly hare Caprolagus hispidus, sloth bear Melursus ursinus, hog badger Arctonyx collaris, otter Lutra lutra, tiger Panthera tigris, leopard P. pardus, Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica, wild boar Sus scrofa, sambar Cervus unicolor, barasingha or swamp deer C. duvauceli, hog deer Axis porcinus, Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak, water buffalo Bubalus bubalis and gaur Bos frontalis. Population estimates are based on the 1972 census by Lahan & Sonowal and 1984 census, detailed in Choudhury. Elephants and other animals migrate with the advent of the monsoon southwards into the Mikir Hills and beyond to avoid the annual flooding of the National Park. A preliminary list of mammals is given by Spillett.
The Park lies within one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas and the avifauna comprises over 300 species. The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish), over 100 species of migratory birds, and great numbers of the bar-headed goose Anser indicus; all whom visit the park seasonally from as far away as Siberia. Uncommon waterfowl species include Dalmatian pelican Pelicanus crispus, a rookery of spot-billed pelicans Pelecanus philippensis near Kaziranga village, white-bellied heron Ardea insignis, black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, greater and lesser adjutant storks Leptoptilos dubius and *L. javanicus, lesser white-fronted goose Anser erythropus, marbled teal Marmoronetta angustirostris, Baer’s pochard Aythya baeri, Pallas's fish eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus, grey-headed fish eagle Icthyophaga icthyaetus, swamp partridge Francolinus gularis and spotted greenshank Tringa guttifer.
Other birds of interest include white-rumped and Indian vultures Gyps bengalensis and Gyps tenuirostris, imperial and greater spotted eagles Aquila heliaca and A. clanga, crested serpent eagle Spilornis chela, lesser kestrel Falco naumanni, *Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis, Indian skimmer Rhyncops albicollis, pale-capped pigeon Columba punicea, green imperial pigeon Ducula aenea, perhaps 25-30 grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum, blackbreasted parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris, great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis, silver-breasted broadbill Serilophus lunatus, Jerdon's and white-throated bushchats Saxicola jerdoni and S. insignis, marsh, Jerdon’s and slender-billed babblers Pellorneum palustre, Chrysomma altirostre and Turdoides longirostris, striated and chestnut-capped babblers Turdoides earlii and Timalia pileatea, and Finn’s weaver Ploceus megarhynchus.
The reptilian fauna includes water monitor Varanus salvator, Indian python Python molurus, common cobra Naja naja and king cobra N. hannah. The bheels are excellent fish nurseries for Brahmaputra fish.
Mikir tribesmen live in the neighbouring Karbi-Anglang hills to the south.
Local Human Population
There are no villages inside the national park but it is densely bordered on three sides by human settlements and tea plantations. There are 39 villages within a 10km radius of the park, with an estimated population of 22,300 people in 1983-1984, most of them very poor subsistence farmers tempted by poverty to fish and poach wildlife in the Park.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
The interior of the Park is accessible outside the flood season (May to October), mostly on elephant-back, by 4WD vehicles or seen from watchtowers. Guides are mandatory and foot safaris are banned. There are seven tourist lodges in the Park. Some 22,020 people visited the park in 1983-4, and 15,700 in 1997. With the lessening of political turmoil in Assam the tourist potential of Kaziranga has begun to develop again. In 2001-2 there were 46,306 visitors. In 2003 an Elephant Festival was held and tourist companies were once more visiting the Park regularly.
Scientific Research and Facilities
The first extensive census of the wildlife was carried out in 1966, since when censuses have been conducted by the Forest Department in 1972, 1978 and 1984. Other work includes preliminary status surveys of the rhinoceros, Bengal florican and barasingha. Using satellite imagery, changes in vegetation cover have been monitored for the period 1973-1986 and the suitability of the habitat for a number of important ungulates has been assessed.
Kaziranga is renowned as one of the finest and most picturesque wildlife refuges in southern Asia with a wide diversity of species. It protects the world's largest Indian rhinoceros population, as well as many other threatened species. The site lies within a Conservation International-designated Conservation Hotspot, a WWF Global 200 Eco-region, and is one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas.
Kaziranga was originally designated a reserve forest in 1908 with the object of preserving the rhinoceros and other large mammals. The killing of rhinoceros was made punishable by the Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act of 1954 and reinforced by the Biodiversity Conservation act of 2002.. No rights or privileges to exploit forest produce are exercised. Limited grazing was permitted until the area was finally declared a National Park. Kaziranga has a long history of management and there is annual burning of the grasslands by wildlife staff. Elevated flood refuges have been built since development along the highway has begun to block the animals' customary escape from flooding into the hills; and because when they reach safety, they disturb village crops. A Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation has been set up by the Wildlife Trust of India and the Assam Forestry Department, which cares for the many animals orphaned and injured by floods. Monitoring is constant of erosion and siltation, flood trends, grassland habitat, animal populations, tourists and local attitudes to conservation.
There has been a series of ten-year management plans from 1981. The present plan runs from 2003-2 to 2012-3 and is supplemented by an Annual Plan of Operation. The government has proposed a 429,500 ha extension to incorporate a section of the Brahmaputra River within the Park which is to be handed over to the Park administration when ownership rights have been settled. In addition, some 3,200 ha in the southern highlands of Karbi Plateau have been purchased by the Forest Department, but the land has not yet been ceded by the local tribal administrative body. Fishing within the Park has recently been made illegal to prevent this from forming a front for more serious forms of poaching. Compensation is paid for damage caused by the Park’s animals, but not for fatalities.
River erosion and migration has resulted in the loss of some 5,000 ha of the Park between 1925 and 1986. This is to be balanced in the future by enlargement of the National Park in the north to include part of the Brahmaputra River. Significant losses to wildlife are sustained during severe floods, as for example in 1973 and in 1988, when 70% of the park was submerged, causing the deaths of at least 38 rhinoceros, including 23 calves, 1,050 deer, 69 wild boar, three baby elephants, two tigers and numerous smaller species. In 1996 44 rhinoceros were killed by floods; raised earth bunds were subsequently provided as refuges during floods. The monsoon flooding of 2004 was said to be the worst for 50 years, with widespread loss of animals. Flooding may be occurring more often due to damage to the watershed upstream.
A railway paralleling the road was cancelled in the 1980s but National Highway 37 along the Park’s southern boundary is becoming busier, interfering with animal migratory routes. Many animals are killed by traffic while crossing the road to escape the water, 50 animals in 2002 alone. The road encourages settlement on either side, thus widening the gap between the National Park and the Karbi Anglang hills to the south to which the seasonal flooding forces many animals to move during the rains. The crossing also leaves them vulnerable to hunting and reprisals from local villagers for crop damage, especially by elephants; hence the need to extend the Park to include higher ground to the south. At the same time, 300 people are killed every year by elephants, for which no government compensation is forthcoming, which fuels resentment against the Park.
Poaching and illegal fishing are heavy, especially of rhinoceros for its horn by heavily armed hunters, sometimes in league with disaffected tribal people. A kill may net the hunter the equivalent of $2,200, and horn can sell for $33,200 a kilogram. The rhino population growth rate was thought to have declined in the 1980's: since 1986 about 30 animals has been killed each year although numbers are now increasing despite losses from flooding and from the heavy poaching. Some 9-12 poachers are shot by staff every year and 60 were killed during the 1990s. In 1996, Jackman reported the occurrence, with fatalities, of armed conflicts between poachers and staff. However, by 2002, poaching and encroachment were reported to be under better control, with adequate staff and resources, 143 anti-poaching camps and a centre for looking after orphaned and injured animals. Nevertheless, staff morale has been low, payment of wages delayed and there have been shortages of equipment and uniforms due to lack of funds, said to be held up at the level of the Regional government.
One other threat that has become a recurring maintenance problem is infestation by the alien mimosa weed, Mimosa invisa and M. inermis, both introduced via upstream farms. This has blanketed the native vegetation over about 5% of the Park and requires constant clearing. There is also some danger from pollution of the river by tea estates and a refinery upstream. Stone quarrying in the adjacent hills has confined and disturbed the elephants which also come under threat where their migration corridors cross the road. Damage and fatalities caused by their rampaging have exacerbated popular opposition to the Park which local villagers continue to see as a traditional resource to which the government denies them access. Probably in retaliation, 40 elephants were poisoned in mid 2003. On the other hand, the illegal presence in the Park of grazing water buffalo contributes to the spread of rinderpest and has resulted in hybridisation of the wild stock. Community eco-development projects have been aimed more at the protection of animals and providing infrastructure than in helping communities directly, and there has been a lack of consultation and of an open planning process. The Park’s management plan is being finalised, and improved management, financial and technical support and community strategy, awareness, education and involvement in planning are all still necessary.
There are some 452 staff as well as 242 Forest Protection Force Personnel but this is still inadequate (KNP, 2003). There is a lack of staff trained to deal with the complex social problems related to the surrounding population.
Funding is also inadequate. The Central Government allocated Rs3,683,000 (US$283,000) for 1989/1990 under its rhinoceros conservation scheme and both national and state government continue fund the Park to control poaching and encroachments. In 1997, 1998 and in 2001, the WHF granted US$50,000 Emergency Assistance towards the construction of guard posts and improved security. IFAW helped to fund the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has granted US$49,000 towards improved staff training.
IUCN Management Category
- II National Park
- Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1985. Natural Criteria ii, iv
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