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World Heritage Sites

 

COUNTRY India - Assam

NAME Kaziranga National Park

IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY

II (National Park)

Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iv

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE 4.09.04 (Burma Monsoon Forest)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Situated in Nagaon and Golaghat districts on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra River at the foot of the Mikir Hills, some 8km from Bokakhat. National Highway No. 37 forms the southern boundary. 26°30'-26°45'N, 93°05'-93°40'E

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT Final notification as a national park issued on 11 February 1974, following the first notification in 1969. Originally established as a reserved forest in 1908, a game sanctuary in 1916 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1950. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985.

AREA 42,996ha, of which some 5,000ha has been lost due to erosion of the northern boundary by the Brahmaputra River (Kushwaha and Madhavan Unni, 1986). According to official records, the actual land area is 37,822ha. An addition of some 45,450ha is proposed and includes the Brahmaputra River to the north and part of the Mikir Hills to the south.

LAND TENURE State

ALTITUDE Ranges between 40m and 80m. To the south of the park, the Mikir Hills rise to about 1,220m.

PHYSICAL FEATURES Lies in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River. The riverine habitat consists primarily of tall, dense grasslands interspersed with open forests, interconnecting streams and numerous small lakes or 'bheels'. Three-quarters or more of the area is submerged annually by the flood waters of the Brahmaputra. Soils are alluvial deposits of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries (Spillett, 1966). The wetlands are described by Scott (1989).

CLIMATE 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°C and 7°C, respectively. The monsoon occurs from May to September when conditions are warm and humid. Most of the mean annual rainfall of 2220mm falls during this season. During winter (November to mid-February), when conditions are mild and dry, mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 25°C and 5°C, respectively (Kushwaha and Madhavan Unni, 1986).

VEGETATION There are three main types of vegetation: alluvial inundated grasslands, tropical wet evergreen forests and tropical semi-evergreen forests (Jain and Sastry, 1983). Grasslands predominate in the west, with tall 'elephant' grasses on the higher ground and short grasses on the lower ground surrounding the 'bheels'. They have been maintained by annual flooding and burning over thousands of years. Amidst the grasses are numerous forbs and scattered trees of Bombax ceiba, Dillenia indica, Careya arborea and Emblica officinalis. Tropical wet evergreen forests, near Kanchanjhuri, Panbari and Tamulipathar blocks, are dominated by trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus rumphii, Cinnamomum bejolghota, and species of Syzygium. Tropical semi-evergreen forests occur near Baguri, Bimali and Haldibari. 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. Based on Landsat data for 1986, coverage by different vegetation is as follows: tall grasses 41%, short grasses 11%, open jungle 29%, swamps 4%, rivers and water bodies 8%, and sand 6% (Kushwaha and Madhavan Unni, 1986).

FAUNA The park contains about 15 species of India's threatened (Schedule I) mammals. It harbours the world's largest population of Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (EN), which has increased from a few dozen in 1908 (Gee, 1964) some 1,080 in 1984 (Choudhury, 1987), 1,100 in 1988 (Martin and Vigne, 1989) to a more recent number of 1,250 (Milne, 1997). Indian elephant Elephas maximus (EN) are thought to number 1,100 (Jackman, 1996).

Other mammals include capped langur Presbytis pileata, a small population of hoolock gibbon Hylobates hoolock (DD), tiger Panthera tigris (EN), leopard P. pardus, sloth bear Melursus ursinus (VU), Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica (EN), otter Lutra lutra, wild boar Sus scrofa (3,645), water buffalo Bubalus bubalis (EN) (677), gaur Bos frontalis (VU) (30), sambar Cervus unicolor (358), swamp deer C. duvauceli (VU) (756), hog deer Axis porcinus (LR) (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 (Sinha, 1981). A preliminary list of mammals is given by Spillett (1966).

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 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, 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 (Choudhury, 1987). Further details of waterfowl are given in Scott (1989).

The reptilian fauna includes water monitor Varanus salvator, Indian python Python molurus (V), common cobra Naja naja and king cobra N. hannah are present (Spillett, 1966).

CULTURAL HERITAGE Mikir tribals live in the neighbouring hills.

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION There are no villages inside the national park but it is 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 (IIPA/Environmental Studies Division, pers. comm.).

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES The interior of the park is accessible mostly by elephant back. There are ten tourist rest houses. Some 22,020 people visited the park in 1983-1984; but only with the end of political turmoil in Assam is the full tourist potential of Kaziranga being explored.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The first extensive census of the wildlife was carried out in 1966 (Spillett, 1966), since when censuses have been conducted by the Forest Department in 1972 (Lahan and Sonowal, 1973), 1978 and 1984 (Choudhury, 1987). Other work includes preliminary status surveys of the rhinoceros (Laurie, 1978) and Bengal florican (Ali et al., 1985; Narayan et al., 1989). Using satellite imagery, changes in vegetation cover have been monitored for the period 1973-1986 (Kushwaha and Madhavan Unni, 1986) and the suitability of the habitat for a number of important ungulates has been assessed (Parihar et al., 1986).

CONSERVATION VALUE Kaziranga is renowned as one of the finest and most picturesque wildlife refuges in southern Asia (Spillett, 1966). It protects the world's largest Indian rhinoceros population, as well as many other threatened species.

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT Kaziranga was originally designated a reserve forest in 1908 with the primary objective of preserving the rhinoceros and other large mammals, since when hunting and shooting have been prohibited. No rights or privileges to exploit forest produce are exercised. Limited grazing was permitted up until the final notification declaring the area as a national park. Kaziranga has a long history of management and practices include annual burning of the grasslands by wildlife staff (Lahan and Sonowal, 1973). There is a management plan valid up to 1980-1981 but this has not been updated. The government has proposed a 45,450ha extension to incorporate a section of the Brahmaputra River within the park. This will be handed over to the park administration when ownership rights have been settled. In addition, some 3,200ha in the southern highlands of Karbi Plateau have been purchased by the Forest Department, but the land has not yet been handed over by the local tribal administrative body (Choudhury, 1987).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS The biggest recent threat in the 1980's was a proposal to build a railway along the southern boundary; this would have adversely affected animal migratory patterns (Choudhury, 1987). However, the proposal was dropped (Ranjitsinh, 1988). The national highway on the southern boundary is becoming busier and encouraging settlement on either side, thus widening the gap between the national park and the southern hills. River migration has resulted in the loss of some 5,000ha of the national park from 1925 to 1986 (Kushwala and Madhavan Unni, 1986). This will be obviated with the enlargement of the national park in the north to include part of the Brahmaputra River.

Seasonal flooding causes many animals to move out of the national park during the rains, leaving them vulnerable to hunting and reprisals from local villagers for crop damage; hence the need to extend it to include higher ground to the south. Significant losses to wildlife may be sustained during severe floods, as for example in 1973 (Islam, 1974). The highestrecorded flooding occurred in 1988, with 70% of the park submerged, causing the deaths of at least 38 rhinoceros, including 23 calves, 1,050 deer, 68 wild boar, three baby elephants, two tigers and numerous smaller species. In 1996 44 rhinoceros were killed by floods and subsequently steps have been taken to provide refuges during flood periods with the construction of raised earth bunds (Milne, 1997). Flooding may be occuring more frequently due to damage to the watershed upstream (Anon., 1988; Bradley Martin and Vigne, 1989).

Poaching of rhinoceros remains a serious problem. In 1986, some 41 animals were killed by poachers. This figure fell to 27 in 1987 and has remained stable with 26 rhinoceros killed in 1996 (Milne, 1997). Although the rhino population growth rate was thought to have declined in the 1980's (Choudhury, 1987), absolute numbers are now increasing despite losses from poaching and flooding (Milne, 1997).

The illegal presence of domestic water buffalo in the park has contributed to the spread of rinderpest and resulted in hybridisation of the wild stock.

Jackman (1996) reports low morale amongst staff, with lack of funds causing shortages of equipment, uniforms and delayed wages. An average of 9-12 poachers are shot by staff every year (Milne, 1997) and armed conflicts between poachers and staff can occur (Jackman, 1996).

STAFF Some 459 staff as well as 75 home guards and 42 Assam Forest Protection Force Personnel (Jackson, 1996).

BUDGET Central Government allocated Rs 3,683,000 for 1989/1990 under its rhinoceros conservation scheme.

LOCAL ADDRESSES

Director, Kaziranga National Park, PO Bokakhat, District Jorhat, Assam 785 612

REFERENCES

Anon. (1978). Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary. Hornbill 8: 17-26. Unseen.

Anon. (1988). Kaziranga under water. Himal 1(2): 33.

Ali, S., Daniel, J.C. and Rahmani, A.R. (1985). Study of ecology of certain endangered species of wildlife and their habitats. The floricans. Annual Report 1, 1984-1985. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay. Pp. 79-84.

Bradley Martin, E. and Vigne, L. (1989). Kaziranga's calamity - a new threat to the Indian rhino. Oryx 23(3): 124-125.

Burger, J. (1990). Notes from the field: Kaziranga National Park, India. Buzzworm: the Environmental Journal 2(2): 20-21.

Choudhury, A. (1987). Railway threat to Kaziranga. Oryx 21: 160-163.

Divekar, H.K., Mohapatra, K.K. and Shekar, P.B. (1980). Some observations on wild buffalo, Bubalus bubalus Linn., in Kaziranga National Park, Assam. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 79: 188-190.

Gee, E.P. (1964). The wildlife of India. Collins, London.

Islam, M.H. (1974). Floods in Kaziranga. Oryx 12: 450-451.

Jackman, B. (1996) The Thin Green Line Telegraph Magazine 19/10/96

Jain, S.K. and Sastry, A.R.K. (1983). Botany of some tiger habitats in India. Botanical Survey of India, Howrah. 71 pp.

Kushwaha, S.P.S. and Madhavan Unni, N.V. (1986). Applications of remote censing techniques in forest cover monitoring and habitat evaluation - a case study at Kaziranga National Park, Assam. In, Kamat, D.S. and Panwar, H.S. (Eds), Wildlife habitat evaluation using remote sensing techniques. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing/Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. Pp. 238-247.

Laurie, W.A. (1978). The ecology and behaviour of the greater one-horned rhinoceros. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, UK.

Milne R.C. (1997) Mission Report: South Asia meeting to review status conservation of world natural heritage and design and cooperative plan of action. 16-19 January 1997, New Delhi, India. Prepared for the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO. Unpublished Report, 7pp.

Narayan, G., Sankaran, R., Rosalind, L and Rahmani, A.R. (1989). The Floricans Houbaropsis bengalensis and Sypheotides indica. Annual Report 1988-89. Bombay Natural History Society. 39 pp.

Parihar, J.S., Panigrahy, S. and Parihar, J.S. (1986). Remote sensing based habitat assessment of Kaziranga National Park. In, Kamat, D.S. and Panwar, H.S. (Eds), Wildlife habitat evaluation using remote sensing techniques. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing/Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. Pp. 157-164.

Ranjitsinh, M. K. (1988). Kaziranga off threatened list. CNPPA Newsletter No. 44. IUCN, Gland. Pp. 2.

Scott, D.A. (Ed.) (1989). A directory of Asian wetlands. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. 1,181 pp.

Shahi, S.P. (1983). Rhino poaching in Kaziranga. WWF India Newsletter 45: 5-6.

Spillett, J.J. (1966). A report on wild life surveys in North India and southern Nepal: the Kaziranga Wild Life Sanctuary, Assam. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 63: 494-533.

DATE October 1985, reviewed July 1988, updated July 1991, April 1997.

 



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