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
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
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION Situated on the southern
bank of the Brahmaputra River at the foot of the Mikir / Karbi Anglong
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,
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
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;
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
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 &
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
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
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
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
Director, Kaziranga National Park, PO Bokakhat, District
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DATE October 1985. Updated 7/1988, 7/1991, 4/1997,