A Walk Down The Land of Red Goats: Kaziranga National Park
The story of Kaziranga National Park, now a World Heritage Site, is a distinct one that finds its origins right in the advent of the twentieth century. The national park was founded in the year 1904 and is today a safe haven for several endangered species like the one-horned Rhinoceros, tigers, and other rare species of flora and fauna.
The land at Kaziranga as well as the land that surrounds it has been through years of a struggle for survival in terms of the protection of species that were once being hunted down on a daily basis. With historical documentation of Kaziranga dating back to the seventeenth century, the land has seen the worst of days until efforts were made to transform the land and laws were put in place for the protection and survival of several endangered species.
The history of Kaziranga National Park -
In the beginning of the nineteenth century the land that is now known as Kaziranga was wild and rugged. Wild animals roamed freely, there were sudden changes in the course of the brahmaputra river, diseases like Malaria were on the rise and it was almost always plagued with calamities like floods. With earliest documentation of the place dating back to the 17th century, there continues to be multiple folklore revolving around how the place derived the name Kaziranga. One of the popular versions is that it derived its name due to a peculiar species of red goats that had trodden the land with Kazi meaning goats in the Karbi local dialect and ranga meaning red. Another story revolves around a beautiful woman named Karbi who ruled that area during that time, while another talks of a couple who fell in love and eloped into these forests. Either way, the name dates back to a long time ago and is today a world renowned name.
Around that time Assamese tea plantations were on the rise and a lot of the area went through massive transformation in order to make it favourable for tea cultivations. A lot of the local villagers were thriving with slash and burn cultivation while the land experienced habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss. To make it lucrative, the British established more colonies for tea cultivation and by the 19th century much of the flora and fauna population in Assam was completely destroyed due to the hunting and poaching practices by the British. At one point hunting as a sport by the British army got so bad that up to three soldiers could shoot about 30 buffaloes, more than a dozen hogs, twenty deers and even rhinoceros and tigers and get away with it. Captain Pollock had written in his memoir that at least 1-2 rhinoceros or buffaloes were killed before every breakfast, which was a staggering figure.
Conservation of Wildlife at Kaziranga -
However, this didn’t last for long and with the turn of the twentieth century Baroness Mary Victoria Curzon, the wife of Lord Curzon, initiated the first ever measures for the protection of wildlife in the region. It all began during her first visit to Kaziranga which was popular for its rhinoceros population. Excited to see rhinos, all she could see were hoof marks instead of rhinos. It is believed that an Assamese animal tracker called Balaram Hazarika was the first to bring to her attention the urgent need for the protection of wildlife in the area. Concerned about not being able to spot a single rhino, she urged her husband to take drastic steps toward the conservation of the one-horned Rhinoceros in the region. On the 4th of November, 1904, Lord Curzon took the major step of proposing that a reserve be created for the protection and conservation of depleting wildlife in the Kaziranga zone. On the 1st June the reserve was built across 57,273 acres of land, thus officially establishing the Kaziranga Animal Reserve Forest. Over the next few decades the land went through extensions and expansion to accommodate more wildlife. Flooding being a rampant calamity in the area, the land was once again extended all the way up to the Brahmaputra river.
Officiating of Kaziranga National Park in 1974 -
And finally what officially was a reserve forest in 1908, was turned into a gaming zone for shooting, and was rightfully closed for shooting and poaching in 1926. In 1938, the park was open for visitors, wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers. Later in 1950, after India got its independence from the British, the park was officially declared a wildlife sanctuary and in 1954 the one-horned Rhinoceros received legal protection through the introduction of a bill that criminalised the killing, shooting and hunting of Rhinos. In the year 1968, an act was made to officially declare Kaziranga as a National Park by the Chief Conservator of Forests of that time, P. Baruah, and was passed by the Government of Assam. On 11th of February, 1974, after much deliberation and multiple additions to the land, an area of 429.93 square kilometres was dedicated to the Kaziranga National Park and it became the first national park of Assam.
The tumultuous survival of Kaziranga National Park over the years -
Due to multiple floods that led to loss of livelihoods and wildlife in Assam, the park had to once again tread the rocky road of survival. In the heavy Assam floods of 1973, several animals and species were killed. Following that, another devastating flood caused heavy damage to the park when it was fully submerged under water. During the floods, up to 38 Rhinoceros, 23 calves, over a thousand deers, close to 100 wild boars, baby elephants, tigers and other animals were killed. When the Brahmaputra river flooded in 1998, around 652 animals were killed instantly. Seeing the repeated damage caused by floods and other calamities, the army constructed a number of ten high-raised islands to ensure the survival of different species before they could become endangered.
2005 was a year of celebration for Kaziranga National Park with the extended family and descendants of the Baroness and Lord Curzon being present to celebrate the incredible journey and the fight for the survival and preservation of wildlife in Kaziranga.
What Kaziranga is like today -
It is worth mentioning that in 2008, due to repeated efforts by wildlife conservationists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature changed the status of Indian Rhinos from endangered to a vulnerable species.
Today, Kaziranga is said to be one of the largest, most robust wildlife refuges in the world. All thanks to the efforts taken by conservationists over the years, the one-horned Rhinoceros continues to exist and thrive in the wild of Kaziranga. However, Kaziranga is not just home to the one-horned Rhinoceros and tigers of the region, it is also considered to be a WWF (World Wildlife Fund) ecoregion and is a transient home to rare migratory birds and grey pelicans that hover around and over the Kaziranga village. It is also a haven for several of the world’s most threatened species including leopards, panthers, wild pigs, elephants, wild buffaloes, bears and much more.
As of today, Kaziranga National Park is said to have one of the highest numbers of tigers in India in terms of square kilometres, with 21 tigers thriving per 100 square kilometres. This figure is much higher than even the Jim Corbett National Park and the Bandipur National Park. The number of tigers thriving in the dense forests of the Kaziranga Reserve are 104, based on a consensus conducted in 2017.
As of today, the park holds a fair mix of swamp deer, western swamp deer, southern swamp deer as well as the eastern swamp deer.
When it comes to deers, India has a thriving population of deers and that has been the case for several years now. However, due to rampant hunting, changes in the terrain owing to floods and other calamities, as well as slash-and-burn agriculture has led to a huge decline in the population of deers at Kaziranga.
As per a consensus conducted in 2016, there were close to 1200 deers in the park of which there were almost 300 males, over 600 females and close to 200 calves.
Kaziranga is one of the most important bird havens in India, and is recognized by Birdlife International, an NGO that conserves and protects natural bird habitats across the world. With over 480 different bird species - both a mix of migratory birds and resident birds, the park is abuzz with species like the Blyth’s Kingfisher, Black-bellied terns, different species of Herons, a range of Storks, Asian Openbill and much more.
How to get to the Kaziranga National Park -
If you’re travelling by flight, the nearest airport is the Rowriah Airport in Jorhat, which is about 97 kilometres away from the park. For international travellers, the nearest airport is about 209 kilometres away from the park and is the Guwahati airport.
For those coming by train, there’s a railway station called the Furkating Junction, which is about 75 kilometres from the park. Furkating is well connected whether you’re coming from Guwahati, Delhi or even Kolkata.
Alternatively, there are buses from Guwahati to Kohara, which is the closest bus station to the Kaziranga National Park. Getting to Kohara isn’t a hassle, as buses are known to frequent the region.
Other places to visit close to the Kaziranga National Park -
The Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary -
The Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is a protected sanctuary for India’s only gibbons - the northeastern hoolock and the Bengal slow loris. The canopies of the forest are lush with thick Hoollong trees with shrubs and grass thriving below.
The Orang National Park -
For those who love and enjoy aquatic species, the Orang National Park is one of the oldest game reserves in the state of Assam and is on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra river.
The Manas National Park -
The Manas National Park is another beautiful sight to see, a little further away, at the banks of the river Manas, which is close to the foothills of the Himalayas. Spread over and area of 519 square kilometres, it was declared as a sanctuary way back in 1928, and was originally a tiger reserve which was promoted to the position of a National Park in 1990. Manas is a World Heritage Site with an unparalleled mix of thriving wildlife, flora and fauna and rare species.
The Wild Mahseer -
An interesting spot to catch a break would be a gorgeous tea estate nestled on the hills of Assam. The Wild Mahseer, named after one of the toughest game fishes in the world, is a haven that still has remnants of old colonial British-influenced Assam. It is an ark of over 1 lakh plant species, close to a hundred species of birds, and almost a hundred species of butterflies. It is also one of the entry points to the forests of Pakke, Kaziranga, Orang and Nameri. Spread over a sprawling 22 acres of land, the Wild Mahseer is right in the middle of the Balipara division of the Addabarie Tea Estate near Tezpur.
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