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Wildlife National Parks

Kaziranga National Park

In the deep forests of the North- East, time stands perfectly still. And in here lives the survivor of the prehistoric times, the one horned Rhinoceros. In the state of Assam, their habitat is limited to the two national parks - Kaziranga and Manas. At Kaziranga, the open country makes wildlife viewing fairly easy, while Manas, a known Tiger Reserve, is located in the remotest region of the Himalayan foothills.Located on the banks of Brahmaputra river, Kaziranga has the largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses in the world. The Kaziranga National Park is located in Jorhal district in Assam. It covers an area of 430 square kilometres, bodered by the mighty Brahmaputra River in the north. Due to torrential monsoons and annual floods, the ideal season for visiting the park is an unusually short three months, though it is open from mid-November to April. Famous for its rhinos, it also has a healthy population of other animals like tigers, wild buffaloes and elephants. It is the most popular park in the region and is easily accessible by road. Rare species of birds, like the hornbill, also draw wildlife and birding enthusiasts in large numbers. Accommodation facilities are plentiful and visitors rarely return from safaris disappointed

The National Park gives the visitor a chance to see the fauna including tigers, elephants, panthers, bears and thousands of birds at fairly close quarters. The best time to visit Kaziranga is from November to March. Kaziranga's ecology is dominated by the river, which floods dramatically every year. A tributary, the Moru Diphlu, forms the park's southern boundary and exacerbates the flood situation. As much as three-quarters of the park may get submerged. Animals are forced to higher grounds, but hundreds still perish every year. Post-monsoon, Kaziranga transforms into a swamp thriving with wildlife.

A World Heritage Site in Assam, Kaziranga constitutes miles of shallow swamp and tall elephant grass with dense forest. The Mikir Hills to its south-west rise to nearly 1,220 m and some of the rivulets that flow down from these hills drain into the many lakes (bils) within the park.

Kaziranga has the largest population of the One-horned Rhinoceros, over 1,200 individuals at last count. In the 1800s, the area was the hunting preserve of the local rajas, one of whom is said to have killed 97 rhinos in a month! Such mindless slaughter almost wiped out the species, and by 1908 the surviving population was estimated at only 12. Stringent steps were then taken and in 1926, the area was offered protection. It remained closed to the public until 1938. Kaziranga received the status of a sanctuary in 1940 but it was only in 1954, when the Assam Rhino Bill was passed, that the animal finally received the special protection it needed. Kaziranga became a national park in 1974.

Most of the park's wildlife can be easily seen, often in a couple of days. Though the forest department organizes mini-bus and jeep rides, the unhurried elephant rides are the most rewarding, facilitating close encounters with Swamp Deer (Barasingha), Hog-deer, Asian Elephant, and of course, the Onehorned Rhinoceros. Tigers are rarely sighted in the maze of elephant grass and dense growth. The avifauna is extremely rich and varied, and includes both waterside and woodland birds.

This wealth of species makes Kaziranga a highly visited reserve in the flood-free months and the park can get especially crowded over weekends. Bordered by human settlements and tea plantations, it is a troubled wilderness, and for a while faced the brunt of social unrest. To escape the flood waters the wildlife often moves outside the park, where it is more exposed to poachers. Conservation initiatives to increase the park's area to 820 sq km from the present 472 sq km are in progress, though slow-moving.

Meanwhile, life continues in Kaziranga, miraculously surviving the ravages of the untamed river, but increasingly vulnerable to human intrusion.

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