Keoladeo (Bharatpur) National Park, India
Keoladeo (Bhartpur) National Park (27°10'N, 77°31'E is a World Heritage Site situated in eastern Rajasthan. The park is 2 kilometers (km) south-east of Bharatpur and 50km west of Agra.
Date and History of Establishment
Established as a national park on 10 March 1982. Previously the private duck shooting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur since the 1850's, the area was designated as a bird sanctuary on 13 March 1956 and a Ramsar site in October 1981. The last big shoot was held in 1964 but the Maharajah retained shooting rights until 1972. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985.
2,873 hectares (ha)
Rajasthan State Government
174 meters (m)
The area consists of a flat patchwork of marshes in the Gangetic plain, artificially created in the 1850s and maintained ever since by a system of canals, sluices and dykes. Normally, water is fed into the marshes twice a year from inundations of the Gambira and Banganga rivers, which are impounded on arable land by means of an artificial dam called Ajan Bund, to the south of the park. The first time, usually in mid-July, is soon after the onset of the monsoon and the second time is in late September or in October when Ajan Bund is drained ready for cultivation in winter. Thus, the area is flooded to an depth of 1-2m throughout the monsoon (July-September), after which the water level drops. From February onwards the land begins to dry out and by June only some water remains. For much of the year the area of wetland is only 1,000ha. Soils are predominantly alluvial – some clay has formed as a result of the periodic inundations.
During 1988, mean maximum temperature ranged from 20.9° Celsius (C) in January to 47.8°C in May, while the mean temperature varied from 6.8°C in December to 26.5°C in June. The diurnal temperature variation ranged from 5°C in January to 50°C in May. Mean relatively humidity varied from 62% in March to 83.3% in December. The mean annual precipitation is 662 millimeters (mm), with rain falling on an average of 36 days per year. During 1988 only 395mm of rain fell during 32 wet days.
In a semi-arid biotype, the park is the only area with much vegetation, hence the term 'Ghana' meaning 'thicket'. The principal vegetation types are tropical dry deciduous forest, intermixed with dry grassland in areas where forest has been degraded. Apart form the artificially managed marshes, much of the area is covered by medium-sized trees and shrubs. Forests, mostly in the north-east of the park, are dominated by kalam or kadam Mitragyna parvifolia, jamun Syzygium cuminii and babul Acacia nilotica. Neem Azadirachta inidca, probably introduced, is occasional. The open woodland is mostly babul with a small amount of kandi Prosopis spicigera and ber Zizyphus mauritiana. Scrublands are dominated by ber and kair Capparis decidua. Piloo Salvadora oleoides and S. persica also occur scrubland and are virtually the only woody plants found in areas of saline soil. The aquatic vegetation is rich in species and is a valuable source of food for waterfowl.
Primates are rhesus macaque Macaca mulatta and langur Presbytis entellus. Large predators are absent, leopard Panthera pardus having been deliberately exterminated by 1964, but small carnivores include Bengal fox Vulpes bengalensis, jackal Canis aureus, striped hyena Hyaena hyaena, common palm civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, small Indian civet Viverricula indica, Indian grey mongoose Herpestes edwardsi, fishing cat Felis viverrina (K), leopard cat F. bengalensis, jungle cat F. chaus and smooth-coated otter Lutra perspicillata numbering about 30 individuals. Ungulates include blackbuck Antilope cervicapra (60), chital Cervus axis (350)[230-260], sambar C. unicolor, hog deer C. porcinus, nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus (480)[160-180] and wild boar Sus scrofa [200-250] and feral cattle [950-1,000]. (The figures in brackets refer to the number of animals counted in the 1980 census and those in square brackets refer to the 1988 census). Other mammals include Indian porcupine Hystrix indica and Indian hare Lepus nigricollis.
An estimated 65 million fish-fry are carried into the parks water impoundments by river flooding every year during the monsoon season, which provides the food base for large numbers of wading and fish-eating birds. Some 364 species of bird have been recorded in the park, which is considered to be one of the world's finest areas for birds, with an unique assemblage of species. The park was the last known wintering ground in India of the western population of Siberian crane Grus leucogeranus (V). Despite reaching a decade-high total of 41 birds during the winter of 1984-85 numbers have been steadily decreasing and in the winter of 1993 and 1994, none were observed. In 1996, four birds wintered in the park, and in 1997 two adults and a young bird were observed. There is only one other known western population in Iran, but a thriving eastern population of some 1,350 cranes has recently been discovered wintering in Poyang Lake Nature Reserve, Jiangxi, China.
The park's location in the Gangetic Plain makes it an unrivaled breeding site for herons, storks and cormorants and an important wintering ground for large numbers of migrant ducks. The most common waterfowl are gadwall Anas strepera, shoveler A. clypeata, common teal A. crecca, cotton teal Nettapus coromandelianus, tufted duck Aythya fuligula, comb duck Sarkidiornis melanotos, little cormorant Phalacrocorax niger, great cormorant P. carbo, Indian shag P. fuscicollis, ruff Philomachus pugnax (probably the most abundant wader), painted stork Ibis leucocephalus, white spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Asian open-billed stork Anastomus oscitans, oriental ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, darter Anhinga melanogaster, common sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos, wood sandpiper T. glareola and green sandpiper T. ochropus. Sarus crane Grus antigone, with its spectacular courtship dance, is also found here. Among land birds is a rich assortment consisting of warblers, babblers, bee-eaters, bulbuls, buntings, chats, partridges and quails. Grey hornbill Tockus birostris and Marshall's iora Aegithina nigrolutea are also present. There are many birds of prey including the osprey Pandio haliaetus, peregrine Falco peregrinus, Pallas' sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus (R), short-toed eagle Circaetus gallicus, tawny eagle Aquila rapax, imperial eagle A. heliaca (R), spotted eagle A. clanga and crested serpent eagle Spilornis cheela. Greater spotted eagle has recently been recorded breeding here, a new breeding record for the species in India and lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina hastata nested in the park in 1986, the first nesting record for the species in India for some time. Several other threatened avifauna species occur, including Dalmatian pelican Pelecanus crispus (V), spot-billed pelican P. philippensis (I), greater adjutant Leptoptilus dubius (E), lesser adjutant L. javanicus (V), marbled teal Marmaronetta angustirostris (V), Baikal teal Anas formosa (V), Baer's pochard Aythya baeri (V), red kite Milvus milvus (K), cinereous vulture Aegypius monochus (V) and sociable lapwing Vanellus gregarius (R).
Reptiles include water snakes, Indian python Python molurus (V), banded krait Bungarus fasciatus, green rat snake Zaocys nigromarginatus, turtles (Lissemys punctatus, Trionyx gangeticus, Kachuga tectum and Hardella thurgi) and monitor lizard Varanus sp. Some 50 species of fish have been identified. Protozoa, zooplankton and macrobenthic oligochaeta, Insecta and Mollusca have been studied with particular reference to drought conditions.
Local Human Population
There are no local people living within the park, but it is surrounded by 17 villages and the town of Bharatpur is close by.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
Food and accommodation is available at Shanti Kutir Forest Lodge (64 beds), bookable through the Forest Department, and the more expensive ITDC Forest Lodge (36 beds), bookable through the Tourist Department. Boats can be hired and guides knowledgeable about birds are available. There were 80,000 visitors in 1984. During 1994-95, an education/interpretation centre was established at the park's entrance.
Scientific Research and Facilities
The Bombay Natural History Society has done considerable work in the area, including the ringing of birds for the last 40 years. The society has recently intensified its operations and has established a hydro-biological station to monitor the ecology of the wetland. Particular attention will be given to any in dramatic change in the vegetation following the ban on grazing. Limnological studies have been carried out by the Zoology Department of the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. The park authorities are monitoring the bird populations. A documentary film 'Indian birds of the monsoon' was produced by S. and B. Breeden in 1979-1980. The park has considerable potential for education, more so than other wetland sites in India, in view of it beingrelatively near to the cities of Agra, Delhi and Jaipur.
Between December 1992 and January 1995, a collaborative project between the Governments of India and Russia, International Crane Foundation and Wild Bird Society of Japan was set up to save the Siberian crane. The project focused on releasing captivity bred cranes into the wild, tracking migratory routes of common cranes, and building up the resident crane population in the park. Although the project did not yield the desired results, the successful survival of introduced cranes in the park has given sufficient hope to develop a viable resident population in the future.
This former duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas remains one of the major wintering areas for large numbers of aquatic birds, including several threatened species from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia.
The management objective is to allow the area to flood and dry out annually, rather than be maintained as a system of permanent marshes. Water for the wetlands is supplied from a dam outside the park boundaries, usually some 15 million cubic meters, and the water levels are regulated to benefit waterfowl. If the wetland is in danger of drying out completely, water can be pumped from four boreholes to ensure the survival of some aquatic flora and fauna until the monsoon.
The boundaries are clearly delineated by a 32km long, 2 meter (m) high stone wall, which totally encloses the park to prevent humans and domestic livestock from trespassing. Due to the dense human settlement surrounding the park, there is no possibility of creating a buffer zone. The road from Bharatpur town, which bisects the park, has been closed and relocated outside the boundaries. This has considerably reduced the level of disturbance by visitors from the town. Grazing and the collection of firewood and khus grass Vetiveria zizenoides were phased out in 1983.
Siberian crane, which formerly occurred throughout the entire Indo-Gangetic plains of India, is reported to no longer be found in the area. Its absence has been attributed to hunting by nomadic tribes along the specie's 5,000 mile migration route from Siberia to Bharatpur.
Some 2,500 cattle and water buffalo were allowed in the area up until November 1982 when grazing was banned. Predictably, the ban led to a build up of local resentment, resulting in an attempted forced entry into the park. Police opened fire and eight people were killed: tensions still remain high. The absence of grazing is causing management problems as vegetation, principally Paspalum distichum, a perennial amphibious grass, blocks up the channels. The Rajasthan government has rejected a proposal from the Bombay Natural History Society to allow limited grazing, since this conflicts with the law. Furthermore, recycled nutrients from the large quantity of dung deposited by livestock probably supported considerable numbers of insects.
The presence of some 700 feral cattle within the park is cause for concern as they compete with wildlife for valuable forage. Larvae of the Lepidopteran Parapoynx diminutalis has also been a serious pest, and considerably inhibited the growth of Nymphoides cristatum during June-July 1986. High levels of pollutants in Ajan Bund are believed to be responsible for the increasing number of piscivorous birds seen in a dazed state and unable to fly. Fewer birds were recorded in 1984 than in previous years. Four Sarus cranes and 40 ring doves were found dead outside the park during 1988 and early 1989, possibly due to pesticide poisoning, and a study of the impact of pesticide use in surrounding areas on the park has been initiated in addition to studies on heavy metal contamination. Disturbance from visitors can be a cause for concern, especially during the December and January when visitors come to see the cranes.
A non-native water hyacinth Icornia species was introduced in 1961, and has now proliferated to the extent that it is blocking the artificial waterways and filling the impoundments. This is significantly altering the habitat for many bird species, and is a serious management problem. Atempts to control the species have been ineffectual to date.
Under the Deputy Chief Wildlife Warden are a research officer, forester, three rangers, 20 wildlife guards, clerks and an accountant.
During 1994-95, financial assistance to the State of Rajasthan for development work in Keoladeo National Park was to the tune of 2.39 million Rupees. A sizeable amount is also spent by the State Government on establishment, management and maintenance and development of facilities.
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site - Criterion iv
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