Kaziranga national park

Kaziranga; is home two-third of world’s one horned Rhino population. A very successful conservation programme has ensured a population of about 2400 Rhinos in this park. It is also the highest Tiger density park, with over 110 Tigers last counted. Kaziranga is the only park outside Africa which has breeding population of many species of cats, like, Tigers, Leopards, Leoprad Cat, Jungle Cat, and Fishing Cat. Declared as World Heritage Site in 1974, it is also a very Important Bird Area. A healthy population of Asian Elephants, Water Buffaloes, Eastern Swamp Deers. Nine of the 14 primate species are found here including the rare Golden Langur, and the only Ape in India the Hoolock Gibbon is in this park. Protecting such bio-diversity is a huge challenge, and nature does not assist. With the massive Brahmaputra passing through the forest Kaziranga gets flooded every year, thus losing lot of wildlife as well.

The Kaziranga National Park is the only National Park in the State situated in central Assam with an area of 430sq. km. It is the home of the great Indian one horned Rhinoceros (Unicornis). The landscape of Kaziranga is of sheer forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, mellow marshes and shallow pools.

Kaziranga has a history of its own. Lady Curzon first heard about the Rhinos of Kaziranga from her British tea planter friends and came to Assam in 1904-05. Although she could not see the animal, she spotted hoof prints with three toes and believed that such an animal did exist. On her return, she persuaded lord Curzon to do something to save this animal from total annihilation.

Lord Curzon set the wheels of the British bureaucracy rolling, and on June 1, 1905, 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 the area of reserved forest was expanded with the inclusion of another 13,506 acres. Kaziranga was declared a Game Sanctuary on November10, 1916. In 1938, the then conservator of forest, A.J.W. Milroy stopped all poaching and opened Kaziranga to visitors. Because the word ‘game’ connotated animals for hunting, in 1950, the then senior conservator of forest Mr P D Stracey, changed the term to ‘wildlife sanctuary’.

Gradually the sanctuary, begun as a nucleus encompassing a small area, expanded to its present size. Finally on February 11, 1974, the name was changed to Kaziranga National Park.

The one horned Rhinoceros, Elephant, Indian bison, Swamp Deer, Samber, Hog Deer, Sloth Bear, Tiger, Leopard cat, Jungle cat, Hog badger, Capped langur, Hollock gibbon, Jackal, Goose, Hornbills, Ibis, Cormorants, Egret, Heron fishing eagle etc. all form a part of the very complex ecological balance of the park. During Winter a large number of migratory birds are also seen here.

How To Reach :

Rhino, Kaziranga National ParkKaziranga is 239 km from the Guwahati airport and 97 km from the Jorhat airport. Regular bus services run by the State Transport Corporation, Travel Agencies, Tourist taxis are available. The Bus stoppage for Kaziranga is known as Kohora. The nearest railhead is Furkating at a distance of 75 km.

General Information :

The average temperature around Kaziranga National Park in summer is 32.2° C and in winter 10° C. The average rainfall is 160 cm. Tourists are advised to wear cotton in summer and woolens in winter. The best season for visiting Kaziranga is November to April. The off season is from May to October.

The park contains about 15 species of India’s threatened (Schedule I) Elephant, Kaziranga National Park mammals. It harbours the world’s largest population of Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (E), which has increased from a few dozen in 1908 (Gee, 1964) to some 1,080 in 1984 and 1,100 in 1988. Other mammals include capped langur Presbytis pileata, a small population of hoolock gibbon Hylobates hoolock, tiger Panthera tigris (E), leopard P. pardus (T), sloth bear Melursus ursinus (I), Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E) (523), Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica, otter Lutra lutra, wild boar Sus scrofa (3,645), water buffalo Bubalus arnee (V) (677), gaur Bos gaurus (V) (30), sambar Cervus unicolor (358), swamp deer C. duvauceli (V) (756), hog deer C. porcinus (9,872) and Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak. Population estimates are based on the 1984 census, details of which are given by Choudhury (1987). Elephants and other animals migrate with the advent of the monsoon and head southwards to the Mikir Hills and beyond to avoid the annual flooding of the national park in 1981.

The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish) andthousands of migratory birds, representing over 100 species, visit the park seasonally from as far afield as Siberia. There is a grey pelican Pelecanus philippensis rookery near Kaziranga Village. Other birds of interest include black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, lesser adjutant stork Leptoptilos javanicus, Pallas’s fish eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus, grey-headed fish eagle Icthyophaga icthyaetus, perhaps 25-30 Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (E), swamp partridge Francolinus gularis, grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum, great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis, green imperial pigeon Ducula aenea, silver-breasted broadbill Serilophus lunatus and Jerdon’s bushchat Saxicola jerdoni. The avifauna comprises over 300 species in 1987.

Assam Macaque, Golden Jackal, Asiatic Black Bear, Smooth-coated Otter, Common Palm, Civet Leopard, Cat Leopard, Indian Elephant, Indian Muntjac, Sambar, Indian Pangolin, Orange-bellied, Hoolock Gibbon, Bengal Fox, Sloth Bear, Small Indian Civet, Small Indian Mongoose, Jungle Cat, Tiger, Indian Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer , Water Buffalo, Black Giant Squirrel, Indian Hare, Capped Langur, Dhole, Yellow-throated Marten, Large Indian Civet, Indian Grey Mongoose, Fishing Cat, Ganges Dolphin, Wild Boar, Hog Deer, Gaur, Indian Porcupine, Himalayan Squirrel.

On National Highway No 37, at 5pm. My driver stopped the car and said “Sir, Rhino”, I was in slumber after a long drive from Guhawati, but his 2 words were enough to shake me out and I was up in a flash, my hand automatically reached to my camera bag (which, I always keep next to me). And I asked, “Where”. By now he had got the car off the highway and pointed at 10. o clock position from his seat. I looked, and could not believe my luck, my first Rhino in the Wild was about 30 meters off the National Highway. We parked, got off the car and saw 3 more vehicles standing in front of us, looking at the Rhino.

I lifted the Camera and clicked. The lush green grasslands had enough of food for this massive Rhino. After about 2 clicks I noticed something strange in my frame. Apart from the beautiful background of the National Park, and the grazing Rhino, I think I spotted a human being very close by, about 10 mts from the Rhino. I saw with my naked eyes, and could not believe what I was seeing. There was this youngster with his camera, who had decided to take some close ups of the Rhino. He was hiding in grass behind the Rhino and inching his way slowly close to the Rhino. My driver said, “Sir, today he is dead”. There was no way we could have called the boy back as it would have alerted the Rhino as well. So we had no option but to wait and watch.

Now, this young one was carrying his luck just a bit far, he stood up and took a few shots of the back of the Rhino. But as all Human Beings are, never satisfied with what we have, he decided to take the front pose of this powerful denizen of the Jungle. He almost crawled from behind the Rhino and came on to his side. Continued for a few seconds, I could not spot him until he again decided to stand up, now he was only about 5 mts distance from his object. He stood, clicked a few shots, but the wind gave way. The Rhino smelled something in the air and turned his head to his right. To the utter disbelief of the Rhino there was this young guy standing too close and clicking away. Rhino raised his head and turned a fraction to his right. This was the final signal from him before the charge. By now, the youngster had realized that he had enough; he turned and dashed at a speed, which he himself could not have imagined. He obviously had under estimated the speed of the Rhino, who is known to run much over 50kms/hour in the tall grass.

I could not help but take some shots as a mute spectator. Rhino perhaps thought that he did not want to chase such foolish homo sapiens, waste his time, and energy on such silly issues. Though Rhinos are known to chase quite regularly in the park, but this one just wanted to conserve his energy for some more crucial encounter. The boy who had run quite a distance now decided to look back, to his liking the Rhino had decided not to charge. His family, which was in the car, now realized what a stupid thing their son had done. He got back to the car, a sign of relief, and achievement on his face.

This was on 29th April at 2pm when I was driving from Nameri National Park to Kaziranga. Well, we had to carry on, so we did. Reached Kaziranga still thinking of this episode, simply unbelievable.

Had a quick Lunch, a Gypsy for a Safari was pre organized with an expert naturalist called Punnen. We entered the beautiful Kaziranga, a unique National Park. Home to over 1500 one horned Rhinos, some Wild Elephants, Water buffaloes and not to miss the Royal Bengal Tiger. Despite the fact that there are about 100 Tigers in Kaziranga, the sightings of this elusive cat is not very common here.

We decided to go in the western range today, pre monsoon showers had already arrived. I was hoping that during our safaris atleast the showers spare us. And they did. Weather was overcast, light at times good, at times not so good, but the forest good and green as ever. Punnen, my naturalist realized I was not any ordinary tourist but was here to see the park as a whole, wanted to know about complete flora and fauna.

Our national parks today suffer from Tiger Tourists, everyone enters the park and expects to see a Tiger in first 5 minutes, and if they do not see the same then it is real tough for the driver and the naturalist. They do not accept the fact that Tigers exist in the parks. It is tough to educate such Tiger Tourists. They create so much of pressure on parks, drivers and guides that they do not wish to have Indian tourists inside the parks.

Punnen started to talk about flora, medicinal value of some wild flowers, shrubs and plants. It was a great learning to see what others normally do not wish to see.

We saw the dumps of Rhino droppings, they say a Rhino normally like to drop only at neat, clean and dry places. He visits the same place daily for few days. Then, our first Rhino during the safari, a mother and a calf, about 20 meters away from us, busy grazing. Took some shots and moved on, within next 50 meters another Rhino. After about 100 meters some Water Buffaloes, this was simply mesmerizing. People go to Africa to see Game; well I don’t know how many of those have visited Kaziranga, a paradise tucked away in North east of India. So much to see, so quick, and Punnen was also very particular to ensure we did not miss out on birds, he showed a solitary spot billed pelican in the waters at some distance, red breasted parakeets, green bee eater, Black necked storks, white fronted Kingifisher and some more. It is always tough to click birds, need to have a fast and a high-powered optical zoom. I was carrying a 75-300mm lens on a Canon EOS 300D, a Digital SLR. Apart from the lens one needs to ensure that you have enough memory cards with you. At least 1GB and another 512MB is minimum recommended.

In about 1 hour I had seen plenty. Only thing we missed out was the Wild Elephant. But Punnen was positive, and said we have time still. We were returning, light was not very good, it was about 4.45pm, when Punnen spooted a herd of Wildl Elephants getting close to the water. Must been about 15 in the party, about 4-5 young ones in between the legs of their mothers and aunts, carefully shielded from any Predator, at times Tigers are known to take on baby elephants an baby Rhinos. They got close to the water, we were this side of the water. They perhaps smelled us. Only 2 Elephants came to water, perhaps to check out if it was safe to get close. Babies did not come. In the back drop were few Rhinos, and some water buffaloes, well what else can you ask for, this was as if a trailer of a movie, in a very short time we saw a lot. Not wholly, but substantially, enough to leave an indelible mark on our memories.

I came back after sun set, a sense of completeness, a sense of achievement, I say achievement because I do not know if few generations down the line would there be so much of Wildlife left on this planet. Rhinos, which have been saved from extinction in the park from a dwindling population about 20 years to over 1500 today. How many will be left by Poachers to survive in the Wild? How many would die due to loss of habitat? When would we humans wake up to the fact, to not to plunder our own resources? Our planet, our home, a realization that needs to dawn without more ado on us.

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