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<!---Biodiversity foldout PDF: 727KB--->Global Biodiversity Outlook
 
Facts on Biodiversity & Human Well-being
 

 

Protected Areas and World Heritage

Draft Revision

KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, ASSAM - INDIA

Brief description: This park 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.

COUNTRY India - Assam

NAME Kaziranga National Park

IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY

II National Park

Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1985. Natural Criteria ii, iv

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE Burma Monsoon Forest (4.09.04)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Situated on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra River at the foot of the Mikir / Karbi Anglong Hills,
about 8km 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, then in 1916 as a game reserve and a wildlife sanctuary in 1950; opened to the public in 1938;
1969: First notification as a national park; 1974: Final notification issued.

AREA 37,822ha. Originally 42,996ha: ~5,114ha lost to erosion of the northern boundary by the Brahmaputra (Lahan & Sonowal,1973). 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.

LAND TENURE State, in Golaghat and Naogaon districts.

ALTITUDE Ranges from 40m to 80m. South of the park the Mikir Hills rise to about 1,220m.

PHYSICAL FEATURES 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 (Spillett1966). 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 June to September when conditions are hot and humid. Most of the mean annual rainfall of 2220mm 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 respectively (Kushwaha & Unni, 1986).

VEGETATION 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 (Talukdar, 1995). 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%, (Kushwaha & Unni, 1986).

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 forests 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 (Jain & Sastry,1983). 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.

FAUNA 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 (EN), which has increased from a few dozen in 1908 (Gee, 1964), some 670 in 1972 (Lahan & Sonowal,1973), 1,100 in 1988 (Martin & Vigne, 1989) to a more recent number, despite some 200 losses to poaching in the 1990s, of 1,500 (IUCN,2001). Indian elephant Elephas maximus (EN), estimated at 430 in 1972 (Lahan & Sonowal, 1973) were said to number 1,100 in 1996 (Jackman, 1996).

Other mammals include a small population of hoolock gibbon Bunipithecus hoolock (VU), capped langur Presbytis pileata (VU), bristly hare Caprolagus hispidus (EN: 101 wild individuals in the world, Kavitha, 2001), sloth bear Melursus ursinus (VU:30*), hog badger Arctonyx collaris, otter Lutra lutra (VU), tiger Panthera tigris (EN;30*), leopard P. pardus (10), Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica (EN), wild boar Sus scrofa (3,645), sambar Cervus unicolor (358), barasingha or swamp deer C. duvauceli (VU: 756), hog deer Axis porcinus, Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak (100*), water buffalo Bubalus bubalis (EN: 677) and gaur Bos frontalis (VU: 30). Population estimates are based on the 1972 census (*) by Lahan & Sonowal and 1984 census, detailed in Choudhury (1987). 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 (Sinha,1981). A preliminary list of mammals is given by Spillett (1966).

The avifauna comprises over 300 species (Choudhury, 1987). The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish) and thousands of migratory birds, of over 100 species, visit the park seasonally from as far away as Siberia. There is a rookery of grey pelicans Pelecanus philippensis (VU) near Kaziranga village. Other birds of interest include black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, lesser adjutant stork Leptoptilos javanicus (VU), Pallas's fish eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus (VU), grey-headed fish eagle Icthyophaga icthyaetus, crested serpent eagle Spilornis chela, perhaps 25-30 Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (EN), swamp partridge Francolinus gularis, grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum, great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis, green imperial pigeon Ducula aenea, silver-breasted broadbill Serilophus lunatus, the rare blackbreasted parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris (VU), slenderbilled and striated babblers Turdoides longirostris (VU), and T.earlii, chestnut-capped and marsh babblers Timalia pileatea and Pellorneum palustre (VU), and Jerdon's bushchat Saxicola jerdoni. Further details of waterfowl are given in Scott (1989).

The reptilian fauna includes water monitor Varanus salvator, Indian python Python molurus, common cobra Naja naja and king cobra N. hannah (Spillett, 1966). The bheels are excellent fish nurseries for Brahmaputra fish.

CULTURAL HERITAGE Mikir tribesmen live in the neighbouring hills.

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 (IUCN,2001/2002).

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES The interior of the park is accessible outside the flood season, mostly on elephant-back, and by 4WD vehicles; guides are mandatory. 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 & Sonowal, 1973), 1978 and 1984 (Choudhury, 1987). Other work includes preliminary status surveys of the rhinoceros (Laurie, 1978), Bengal florican (Ali et al.,1985; Narayan et al., 989) and barasingha (Telukdar,1995) Using satellite imagery, changes in vegetation cover have been monitored for the period 1973-1986 (Kushwaha & 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 with a wide diversity of species (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 object of preserving the rhinoceros and other large mammals. The killing of rhinoceros was made punishable by the Assam Rhinoceros Preservation Act of 1954. 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 (Lahan & Sonowal, 1973). 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.

There was a management plan until 1980-1981 which is just being updated in draft form. The government has proposed a 45,450ha 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 3,200ha 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 (Choudhury, 1987). Fishing within the Park has recently been made illegal to prevent this from disguising more serious forms of poaching (IUCN,2001).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS A major threat in the 1980's was a proposed railway along the southern boundary which would have interfered with animal migratory patterns (Choudhury, 1987), but the proposal was dropped. 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 erosion and migration has resulted in the loss of some 5,000ha of the national park between 1925 and 1986 (Kushwala & Unni, 1986). This is to be balanced by the enlargement of the National Park in the north to include part of the Brahmaputra River.

Seasonal flooding forces 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 the Park 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 highest recorded flooding occurred 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 and subsequently raised earth bunds have been provided for refuge during flood periods (Milne, 1997). Flooding may be occuring more often due to damage to the watershed upstream (Anon.,1988; Bradley Martin & Vigne,1989). The illegal presence of domestic water buffalo in the park has also contributed to the spread of rinderpest and resulted in hybridisation of the wild stock.

Poaching of rhinoceros for its horn by heavily armed hunters, sometimes in league with disaffected tribal people, remains a very serious problem. The rhino population growth rate was thought to have declined in the 1980's (Choudhury, 1987): some 41 animals were killed by poachers in 1986, but only 27 in 1987 and the numbers remained stable with 26 rhinoceros killed in 1996 (Milne, 1997). Overall numbers are now increasing despite losses from flooding (Milne,1997) and from the poaching of about 300 during the 1990s (IUCN,2001). An average of 9-12 poachers are shot by staff every year (Milne, 1997); 60 were killed during the 1990s (IUCN,2001). Jackman in 1996 reported the occurrence, with fatalities, of armed conflicts between poachers and staff, low staff morale, delayed wages and shortages of equipment and uniforms due to lack of funds which were said to be held up at the level of the Regional government (IUCN,2001). Damage and fatalities from rampaging elephants have exacerbated popular opposition to the Park which local villagers continue to see as a traditional resource to which the government denies them access.

But by 2002, poaching and encroachment were reported to be under better control, with adequate staff and resources. However, the management plan was still to be finalised, and improved management, financial and technical support and community strategy, awareness, education and involvement in planning were all still necessary. Community eco-development projects were aimed more at protection of animals and providing infrastructure than helping communities directly and there is a lack of consultation and of an open management planning process (UNESCO, 2002).

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

BUDGET The Central Government allocated Rs3,683,000 for 1989/1990 under its rhinoceros conservation scheme and both national and state government continue fund the Park. In 2001, the WHC granted a $50,000 Emergency Assistance grant towards the construction of guard posts.

LOCAL ADDRESSES

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

REFERENCES

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

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

Ali, S., Daniel, J.& Rahmani, A. (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.

Barua,P.& Das,B. (1969). Kaziranga. The Rhinoland in Assam. Peco Press, Gauhati, Assam. 26pp.

BirdLife International, (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions & BirdLife International, Barcelona and Cambridge U.K.

Bradley Martin, E.& Vigne, L.(1989). Kaziranga's calamity - a new threat to the Indian rhino. Oryx 23(3): 124-5

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., Mohapatra, K. & Shekar, P.B. (1980). Some observations on wild buffalo, Bubalus bubalus L. 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.

IUCN (2001). Report on the State of Conservation of Natural and Mixed Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. Gland, Switzerland.

IUCN (2002). Report on the State of Conservation of Natural and Mixed Sites Inscribed on the World Heritage List.  Gland, Switzerland

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

Jain, S. & Sastry, A.(1983). Botany of Some Tiger Habitats in India. Botanical Survey of India, Howrah. 71 pp.

Kavitha, R.  (2001). Know your animals - Hispid Hare. Eco News, C.P.R. Envir. Ed. Ctr. 7/2.

Kushwaha, S.& Unni, M. (1986). Applications of remote censing techniques in forest cover monitoring and habitat evaluation - a case study at Kaziranga National Park, Assam, in, Kamat, D.& Panwar, H.(eds), Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Using Remote Sensing Techniques. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing / Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. pp. 238-247.

Lahan, P. & Sonowal, R. (1973). Kaziranga WildLife Sanctury, Assam. A brief description and report on the census of large animals (March 1972). Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 70:   (2): 245-277.

Laurie, W. (1978). The Ecology and Behaviour of the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. Ph.D.thesis, University of Cambridge, UK.

Milne R.(1997) Mission Report: South Asia Meeting to Review Status Conservation of World Natural Heritage and Design and Cooperative Plan of Action. 1997, New Delhi, India. Prepared for the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO. Unpublished Report, 7pp.

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

Parihar, J.,Panigrahy,S.& Parihar, J. (1986). Remote sensing based habitat assessment of Kaziranga National Park, in Kamat, D.& Panwar, H. (eds), Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Using Remote Sensing Techniques. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing / Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. pp 157-164.

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

Scott, D. (ed.) (1989). A Directory of Asian Wetlands. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland / Cambridge, UK. 1,181 pp.

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

Spillett, 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.

Talukdar, B. (1995). Status of Swamp Deer in Kaziranga National Park. Department of Zoology, Gauhati University, Assam.

UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2002) Report on the 26th Session of the World Heritage Committee, Paris.

DATE October 1985. Updated 7/1988, 7/1991, 4/1997, December 2002.

 


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