A century of protection for the Bengal Tiger and Great One-Horned Rhinoceros

24 September 2013 | Fact sheet

 Kaziranga National Park, India World Heritage Site

Background

A reserve since 1905, Kaziranga National Park in the Northeast India state of Assam was declared a World Heritage Site eighty years later by UNESCO for its unique natural environment. In early 2007, elephants and two rhinoceros were relocated to Manas National Park, the first instance of relocation of elephants between national parks in India.

Administered and managed by the Wildlife wing of the forest department of the Government of Assam, the park area is divided into four ranges, overseen by range forest officers. The four ranges are the Burapahar, Baguri, Central, and Eastern. Kaziranga also hosts two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinoceroses, and boasts the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world. It was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006.

Kaziranga is recognized as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International for conservation of avifaunal species. Compared to other protected areas in India, Kaziranga has achieved notable success in wildlife conservation. Located on the edge of the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot, the park combines high species diversity and visibility.

View images of the park

Size and Location

Kaziranga is located between latitudes within two districts in the Indian state of Assam—the Kaliabor subdivision of Nagaon district and the Bokakhat subdivision of Golaghat district. The park area is circumscribed by the Brahmaputra River, which forms the northern and eastern boundaries, and the Mora Diphlu, which forms the southern boundary. Other notable rivers within the park are the Diphlu and Mora Dhansiri.

The park is approximately 40 km in length from east to west, and 13 km in breadth from north to south. Kaziranga covers an area of 378 km2, with approximately 51.14 km2 lost to erosion in recent years. A total addition of 429 km2 along the present boundary of the park has been made and designated with separate national park status to provide extended habitat for increasing the population of wildlife, or as a corridor for safe movement of animals to the Karbi Anglong Hills.

Flora and Fauna

Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra. The park has flat expanses of fertile, alluvial soil formed by erosion and silt deposition by the Brahmaputra. The landscape consists of exposed sandbars, riverine flood-formed lakes known as beels, and elevated regions known as chapories, which provide retreats and shelter for animals during floods. The park is located in the Indomalaya ecozone, and the dominant biomes of the region are Brahmaputra Valley semi-evergreen forests of the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests biome and a frequently flooded variant of the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands of the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome.

Common tall grasses found in the park include sugarcane, spear grass, elephant grass, and the common reed. Amidst the grasses, providing cover and shade are scattered trees—dominant species including kumbhi, Indian gooseberry, the cotton tree (in savanna woodlands), and elephant apple (in inundated grasslands). Thick evergreen forests, near the Kanchanjhuri, Panbari, and Tamulipathar blocks, contain trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus rumphii, Cinnamomum bejolghota, and species of Syzygium. Tropical semi-evergreen forests are present 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 Leea umbraculifera.

Kaziranga contains significant breeding populations of 35 mammalian species, of which 15 are threatened as per the IUCN Red List. The park is home to the world's largest population of the Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, and also includes Wild Asiatic Water Buffalo, the largest buffalo species in the world, and Eastern Swamp Deer. Significant populations of large herbivores include elephants, gaur and sambar. Small herbivores include the Indian Muntjac, wild boar, and hog deer and the endangered Ganges Dolphin.

Kaziranga is also one of the few wild breeding areas outside of Africa for multiple species of large cats, such as leopards and Bengal Tigers. The Park contains the highest density of tigers in the world (one per five km²). Other felids include the Jungle Cat, Fishing Cat, and Leopard Cats.

Small mammals include the rare Hispid Hare, Indian Gray Mongoose, Small Indian Mongooses, Large Indian Civet, Small Indian Civets, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal, Sloth Bear, Chinese Pangolin, Indian Pangolin, Hog Badger, Chinese Ferret Badger, and parti-colored flying squirrels.

Nine of the fourteen primate species found in India occur in the park. Prominent among them are the Assamese Macaque and Golden Langur, as well as the only ape found in India, the Hoolock Gibbon.

Kaziranga has been identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area. It is home to a variety of migratory birds, water birds, predators, scavengers, and game birds. Birds such as the Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Baer's Pochard duck, Lesser Adjutant, Greater Adjutant, Black-necked Stork, and Asian Openbill stork migrate from Central Asia to the park during winter. Riverine birds include the Blyth's Kingfisher, White-bellied Heron, Dalmatian Pelican, Spot-billed Pelican, Nordmann's Greenshank, and Black-bellied Tern. Birds of prey include the rare Eastern Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Pallas's Fish Eagle and the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, as well as the Lesser Kestrel, Indian Vulture, Slender-billed Vulture, and Indian White-rumped Vulture. Game birds include the Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican and Pale-capped Pigeon. Other families of birds inhabiting Kaziranga include the Great Indian Hornbill and Wreathed Hornbill, Old World babblers such as Jerdon’s and Marsh Babblers, weaver birds such as the common Baya Weaver, threatened Finn's Weavers, thrushes such as Hodgson's Bushchat and Old World warblers such as the Bristled Grassbird. Other threatened species include the Black-breasted Parrotbill and the Rufous-vented Prinia.

Two of the largest snakes in the world, the Reticulated Python and Rock Python, as well as the longest venomous snake in the world, the King Cobra, inhabit the park. Other snakes found here include the Indian Cobra, Monocled Cobra, Russell's Viper, and the Common Krait. Monitor lizard species found in the park include the Bengal monitor and the Water Monitor. Other reptiles include fifteen species of turtle, such as the endemic Assam Roofed Turtle and one species of tortoise, the Brown Tortoise. 42 species of fish are found in the area, including the Tetraodon.

Challenges

Kaziranga has witnessed several natural and human-made calamities in recent decades. Floods caused by overflowing of the Brahmaputra River have led to significant losses of animal life. To mitigate the losses, the authorities have increased patrols, purchased additional speedboats for patrol, and created artificial highlands for shelter. Several corridors have been set up for the safe passage of animals, to prevent the spread of diseases, and to maintain the genetic distinctness of the wild species. Systematic steps such as immunization of livestock in surrounding villages and fencing of sensitive areas of the park, which are susceptible to encroachment by local cattle, are undertaken periodically.

Encroachment by humans along the periphery also has led to a diminished forest cover and a loss of habitat. Poaching activities, particularly of the rhinoceroses for its horn, have been a major concern for the authorities. Preventive measures such as construction of anti-poaching camps and maintenance of existing ones, patrolling, intelligence gathering, and control over the use of firearms around the park have reduced the number of casualties. Since 2013, the park has used cameras on drones to protect the rhino from armed poachers.

Water pollution due to run-off from pesticides from tea gardens, and run-off from a petroleum refinery at Numaligarh, pose a hazard to the ecology of the region. Invasive species such as Mimosa and wild rose have posed a threat to the native plants. To control the growth and irradiation of invasive species, research on biological methods for controlling weeds, manual uprooting and weeding before seed settling are carried out at regular intervals. Grassland management techniques, such as controlled burning, are carried out annually to avoid forest fires. The invasive water hyacinth is very common in the lakes and ponds, often choking the water bodies, but it is cleared during destructive floods. Another invasive species, Mimosa invisa, which is toxic to herbivores, was cleared by Kaziranga staff with help from the Wildlife Trust of India in 2005.