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Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park is a national park in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state of Assam, India. The sanctuary, which hosts two-thirds of the world's great one-horned rhinoceroses, is a World Heritage Site. The rhino population in Kaziranga National Park is 2,413. Kaziranga is home to the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world, and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 (now the highest tiger density is in Orang National Park, Assam) . The park is home to large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer.  Kaziranga is recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International for conservation of avifaunal species. When compared with 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.

Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, criss-crossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park includes numerous small bodies of water. Kaziranga has been the theme of several books, songs, and documentaries. The park celebrated its centennial in 2005 after its establishment in 1905 as a reserve forest.

The history of Kaziranga as a protected area can be traced back to 1904, when Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston, the wife of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, visited the area.  After failing to see a single rhinoceros, for which the area was renowned, she persuaded her husband to take urgent measures to protect the dwindling species which he did by initiating planning for their protection. On 1 June 1905, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 km2 (90 sq mi).

Over the next three years, the park area was extended by 152 km2 (59 sq mi), to the banks of the Brahmaputra River. In 1908, Kaziranga was designated a "Reserve Forest". In 1916, it was redesignated the "Kaziranga Game Sanctuary" and remained so till 1938, when hunting was prohibited and visitors were permitted to enter the park.

The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary was renamed the "Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary" in 1950 by P. D. Stracey, the forest conservationist, in order to rid the name of hunting connotations. In 1954, the government of Assam passed the Assam (Rhinoceros) Bill, which imposed heavy penalties for rhinoceros poaching. Fourteen years later, in 1968, the state government passed the Assam National Park Act of 1968, declaring Kaziranga a designated national park. The 430 km2 (166 sq mi) park was given official status by the central government on 11 February 1974. In 1985, Kaziranga was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its unique natural environment.

The park is approximately 40 km (25 mi) in length from east to west, and 13 km (8 mi) in breadth from north to south.[12] Kaziranga covers an area of 378 km2 (146 sq mi), with approximately 51.14 km2 (20 sq mi) lost to erosion in recent years. A total addition of 429 km2(166 sq mi) 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 Karbi Anglong Hills. Elevation ranges from 40 m (131 ft) to 80 m (262 ft). 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.

Kaziranga has flat expanses of fertile, alluvial soil, formed by erosion and silt deposition by the River Brahmaputra. The landscape consists of exposed sandbars, riverine flood-formed lakes known as, beels, (which make up 5% of the surface area),] and elevated regions known as, chapories, which provide retreats and shelter for animals during floods. Many artificial chapories have been built with the help of the Indian Army to ensure the safety of the animals.[15][16] Kaziranga is one of the largest tracts of protected land in the sub-Himalayan belt, and due to the presence of highly diverse and visible species, has been described as a "biodiversity hotspot". 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. Kaziranga is also surrounded by lush green tea plantations, most of them contributing heavily to Assam's economy.

Fauna
Kaziranga contains significant breeding populations of 35 mammalian species, of which 15 are threatened as per the IUCN Red List. The park has the distinction of being home to the world's largest population of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (1,855), wild Asiatic water buffalo (1,666) and eastern swamp deer (468). Significant populations of large herbivores include elephants (1,940), gaur (30) and sambar (58). Small herbivores include the Indian muntjac, wild boar, and hog deer. Kaziranga has the largest population of the Wild water buffalo anywhere accounting for about 57% of the world population. The One-Horned rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo and swamp deer are collectively known as 'Big Five' of Kaziranga.

Kaziranga is one of the few wild breeding areas outside Africa for multiple species of large cats, such as Bengal tigers and leopards. Kaziranga was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 and has the highest density of tigers in the world (one per five km2), with a population of 118, according to the latest census. Other felids include the jungle cat, fishing cat, and leopard cat. 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 pangolins, hog badger, Chinese ferret badgers, and particoloured flying squirrel. Nine of the 14 primate species found in India occur in the park. Prominent among them are the Assamese macaque, capped and golden langur, as well as the only ape found in India, the hoolock gibbon.  Kaziranga's rivers are also home to the endangered Ganges dolphin.  

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 and 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.[31]:p.10 Birds of preyinclude the rare eastern imperial, greater spotted, white-tailed, Pallas's fish eagle, grey-headed fish eagle, and the lesser kestrel.

Kaziranga was once home to seven species of vultures, but the vulture population reached near extinction, supposedly by feeding on animal carcasses containing the drug Diclofenac.  Only the Indian vulture, slender-billed vulture, and Indian white-rumped vulture have survived. 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 grass babbler.

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 Asian 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.

Flora

There are alluvial inundated grasslands, alluvial savanna woodlands, tropical moist mixed deciduous forests, and tropical semi-evergreen forests. Based on Landsat data for 1986, percent coverage by vegetation is: tall grasses 41%, short grasses 11%, open jungle 29%, swamps 4%, rivers and water bodies 8%, and sand 6%.

There is a difference in altitude between the eastern and western areas of the park, with the western side being at a lower altitude. The western reaches of the park are dominated by grasslands. Tall elephant grass is found on higher ground, while short grasses cover the lower grounds surrounding the beels or flood-created ponds.  Annual flooding, grazing by herbivores, and controlled burning maintain and fertilize the grasslands and reeds. Common tall grasses are sugarcanes, spear grass, elephant grass, and the common reed. Numerous forbsare present along with the grasses. 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, Ficusrumphii, 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, Grewiaserrulata, Mallotus philippensis, Bridelia retusa, Aphania rubra, Leea indica, and Leeaumbraculifera.

There are many different aquatic floras in the lakes and ponds, and along the river shores. The invasive water hyacinth is very common, 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.

Kaziranga National Park has been granted maximum protection under the Indian law for wildlife conservation. Various laws, which range in dates from the Assam Forest Regulation of 1891 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act of 2002 have been enacted for protection of wildlife in the park. Poaching activities, particularly of the rhinoceroses for its horn, has been a major concern for the authorities. Between 1980 and 2005, 567 rhinoceroses were hunted by poachers. Following a decreasing trend for the past few years, 18 one-horned rhinoceroses were killed by poachers in 2007. Reports have suggested that there are links between these poaching activities and funding of terrorist organizations. But these could not be substantiated in later years. 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 used cameras on drones which are monitored by security guards to protect the rhino from armed poachers.

Perennial flooding and heavy rains have resulted in death of wild animals and damage to the conservation infrastructures. To escape the water-logged areas, many animals migrate to elevated regions outside the park boundaries where they are susceptible to hunting, hit by speeding vehicles, or subject to reprisals by villagers for damaging their crops. 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 across National Highway–37 which skirts around the southern boundary of the park. 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.

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 in the region. 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 effected annually to avoid forest fires.

Visitor activities
Observing the wildlife, including birding, is the main visitor activity in and around the park. Guided tours by elephant or Jeep are available. Hiking is prohibited in the park to avoid potential human-animal conflicts. Observation towers are situated at Sohola, Mihimukh, Kathpara, Foliamari, and Harmoti for wildlife viewing. The Lower Himalayan peaks frame the park's landscape of trees and grass interspersed with numerous ponds. An interpretation centre is being set up at the Bagori range of Kaziranga, to help visitors learn more about the park.[46] The park remains closed for visitors from 1 May to end-October due to monsoon rains. Four tourist lodges at Kohora and three tourist lodges outside the park are maintained by the Department of Environment and Forests, Government of Assam. Private resorts are available outside the park borders.[13]:p.19Increase in tourist inflow has led to the economic empowerment of the people living at the fringes of the park, by means of tourism related activities, encouraging a recognition of the value of its protection. A survey of tourists notes that 80 percent found rhino sightings most enjoyable and that foreign tourists were more likely to support park protection and employment opportunities financially, while local tourists favoured support for veterinary services. Recently set up Kaziranga National Orchid and Biodiversity Park established at Durgapur village is a latest attraction to the tourists. It houses more than 500 species of orchids, 132 varieties of sour fruits and leafy vegetables, 12 species of cane, 46 species of bamboo and a large variety of local fishes.

Transport

Authorised guides of the forest department accompany all travelers inside the park. Mahout-guided elephant rides and Jeep or other 4WD vehicles rides are booked in advance. Starting from the Park Administrative Centre at Kohora, these rides can follow the three motorable trails under the jurisdiction of three ranges—Kohora, Bagori, and Agaratoli. These trails are open for light vehicles from November to end Apr. Visitors are allowed to take their own vehicles when accompanied by guides. Buses owned by Assam State Transport Corporation and private agencies between Guwahati, Tezpur, and Upper Assam stop at the main gate of Kaziranga on NH 37 at Kohora.[49] The nearest town is Bokakhat, Golaghat situated at 23 km and 65 km away. Major cities near the park are Guwahati, Dimapur and Jorhat . Furkating 75 kilometres (47 mi), which is under the supervision of Northeast Frontier Railway, is the nearest railway station. Jorhat Airport at Rowriah (97 kilometres (60 mi) away), Tezpur Airport at Salonibari (approx 100 kilometres (62 mi) away), Dimapur Airport 172 kilometres (107 mi) and Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati (approximately 217 kilometres (135 mi) away) are the nearby airports.  Transportation is also available from Guwahati to Kaziranga National Park and other places in Assam and Nagaland