Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kaziranga National Park

Home of the Indian, or Great
One horned, Rhinoceros
(Rhinoceros unicornis)

It was midsummer time.
The grass was sparse.
We were travelling in a jeep because all the elephants were already booked.
We sighted the first Rhinoceros.
It was a magnificent male.
He looked more like an armoured tank, or a fossil age left over, rather than a living mammal of the present era.
He looked up at us and smiled (but honestly speaking, I am not too sure), as we passed him and continued munching grass.
We were inside the fabulous Kaziranga National Park - a national park in Assam, India.
Kaziranga National Park has two-thirds of the world’s One horned Rhinoceros.
It’s also a World Heritage Site.
It has also been recognised as an Important Bird Area by the Birdlife International for conservation of avifaunal species.

Lady Curzon and the Rhinoceros
And then I suddenly remembered the beautiful Lady Curzon.
You may wonder how Lady Curzon can possibly be associated with Rhinoceros.

She is the fairy God Mother of the rhinoceros of Kaziranga.
In fact, she is the fairy God Mother of Kaziranga National Park itself.
In 1904, Lady Mary Victoria Curzon, wife of Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, heard about the rhinoceros in Kaziranga from her British tea planter friends in Assam.
She visited the area.
But all she could see were some foot prints of the three toed animals.
She persuaded Lord Curzon to do something to protect them.

On June 1, 1905, the Government issued a preliminary notification announcing its intention to declare certain areas of Kaziranga a reserved forest.
On January 3, 1908, the Government declared 232 sq. kms. (90 sq. miles) a reserved forest, and officially closed it for shooting.

Over the next three years, the area was extended by 152 sq. kms. (59 sq. miles) upto the banks of the Brahmaputra River.
On January 28, 1913, the area of the reserved forest was expanded by another 13,506 acres.
In 1916, it was converted into a game sanctuary - The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary.

In 1950, P.D. Stracey, senior conservator of forests, changed the term ‘Game Sanctuary’ to ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’ because the word ‘game’ connotes animals for hunting.

On February 11, 1974, the Government of India declared the 430 sq. kms. (166 sq. miles) Wildlife Sanctuary a National Park, and changed its name to Kaziranga National Park.

Kaziranga National Park celebrated its centenary in June 2005.
The Government invited some of the descendants of Curzon on the occasion.
A fitting tribute to Lady Curzon!
Different Species of Rhinos

There are five species of Rhinoceros in the world.
Two of these are native to Africa and three to southern Asia.
All the three species found in Asia - Javan, Sumatran and the Indian, or Great One horned Rhinoceros are critically endangered.
The rhinoceros family is characterised by its large size (one of the few remaining megafauna alive today).
All the species reach one ton or more in weight.
They are herbivorous.
They have protective skin, 1.5 - 5 cm thick, formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure.
The skin has been used to cover shields.
But they have relatively small brains.

Rhinoceros also have acute sense of hearing and smell, but poor eyesight.
Most live to about 60 years or more.
They appear to be slow.
But they can charge at speeds exceeding 40 miles per hour (the speed of a race horse).

The two African species and the Sumatran species have two horns, while the Indian and Javan species have a single horn.

Indian Rhinoceros
A few centuries ago, the Indian, or Great One horned, Rhinoceros were found across the north Indian plains in the wetlands of Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers.
The Mughal Emperors even hunted them.

Today, they are found only in small areas of the north eastern state of Assam and in neighbouring Nepal.
In Assam, their habitat is limited to two national parks - Kaziranga and Manas.
They are considered endangered, with less than 2500 individuals remaining in the wild.
The Horn - is it an aphrodiasac ?

The rhino’s horn is considered to be an aphrodiasac.
The price of a rhino horn in India is anything between Rs. 4 to 7 lakhs.
In the International market, the value is at least three times this amount.
This leads to poaching.
But from the medical point of view, the horns of a rhinoceros are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes hair and fingernails, and have no medicinal or aphrodiasic value.

Other animals
Kaziranga has the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006.
Kaziranga also has large breeding populations of elephants, water buffalo and swamp deer.
There are plenty of other animals, like Indian bison, swamp deer, sambhar, hog deer, sloth bear, leopard, pig, leopard cat, jungle cat, hog badger, capped langur, gibbon, jackal and porcupine.

There are plenty of snakes including the python, king cobra, and a variety of lizards.
It is a bird watcher’s paradise with birds like the pelican, duck, geese, hornbill, ibis, cormorant, egret, heron, black necked stork, lesser adjutants, ring-tailed fishing eagles, etc.

There are fresh water dolphins in the rivers around.


Kaziranga has vast expanses of tall elephant grass, marshland and dense tropical forests crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and numerous small bodies of shallow water.
Reaching there

The nearest airports are Guwahati 239 kms. and Jorhat 97 kms.
From these places, you can travel by car, taxi or public transport.

Success at Kaziranga and the dangers

Kaziranga is considered the flag bearer of all the wildlife conservation efforts across the globe.
But there are a number of dangers.
Poaching is the biggest threat.
At least 27 rhinos were killed in 2007.

Floods caused by over flowing of the Brahmaputra River during the rainy season have often proved disastrous.

The Government is trying to relocate more rhinoceros and elephants to Manas National Park.
You can visit the rhinoceros any time during the year except during the rainy season.
It’s a thrilling experience to watch from close range the armoured tank like creatures who have the strength to attack and overturn a vehicle.

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