Legend has it that a young man called Kazi from Karbi Anglong fell in love with a young girl called Ranga. As they would meet clandestinely in the forest, it became their favourite place. One day both of them disappeared never to return - in their memory, the forest was named Kaziranga. Kaziranga National Park in Assam India, is best-known as the home of the Indian Rhinoceros and is an important sanctuary for Indian wildlife.
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In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the area around Kaziranga was thinly populated, as it was notorious for its wild animals, malaria and the wrath of the mighty Brahmaputra River that annually changed its course. In 1930 when the famous naturalist E.P.Gee, author of 'Wildlife of India' requested permission to visit Kaziranga, a British forest officer had this to say to him - " No one can enter the place. It is all swamps and leeches and even elephants cannot go there." Today more than 50,000 people visit this World Heritage Site, which is one of the richest, most picturesque wildlife habitats of southern Asia.
Kaziranga is also one of the world's biggest conservation success stories - from 12 rhinos in 1908 to 1,700 in 2005. This has put Kaziranga on the top of the world conservation map. Here poachers are dealt with an iron hand -"shoot at sight" carried out if required.
Kaziranga National Park is situated in one of the "Biodiversity Hot-spots" of the world and is home to India's Big Four - the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros, the Royal Bengal Tiger , the Asian Elephant, and the Asiatic Buffalo. It is also home to the largest number of Swamp Deer in eastern India. If Kaziranga National Park were not so closely identified with the rhino, it would probably have become famous as one of the finest birding destinations in the world. In addition to numerous species of resident birds, it serves as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds. Kaziranga is located at the intersection of both the Australasian and the Indo-Asian flyways, with the result that its bird count hovers around the 500 species mark. Several of the species are found only in northeast India, while others are exclusive to the grassland habitat found inside the park. Birdlife International has identified Kaziranga National Park as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for the conservation of the avifaunal species. The birds found here include 25 globally threatened and 21 near threatened species of avifauna, an integral part of Indian Wildlife.
Kaziranga National Park lies in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River, and is flat country with elephant grass and shallow swamps interspersed with large patches of semi-evergreen forest. It is enclosed by Karbi Anglong in the south, and the Brahmaputra in the north. The Mora Diphlu, Bhengra and the Diphlu rivers also drain the park, together with countless smaller streams that feed the many bheels (lakes) that dot the park. The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish), which attract thousands of migratory birds from as far afield as Siberia.
Brahmaputra literally translated means "son of Brahma." While Brahma in Hindu mythology, is the creator of the universe, the mighty river is both creator and destroyer. The high intensity 1950 earthquake raised the riverbed of the Brahmaputra and along with gradual silt deposition, every year with the onset of the monsoon, it overspills its banks and savagely ravages the surrounding areas. Three-quarters or more of the area is submerged annually by the flood waters. This seasonal flooding causes many animals to move to higher ground, both within and outside the park. A number of artificial highlands have been made in the park for this, some of which have been done by the Indian Army. The animals who move out of the park become vulnerable to hunting and reprisals from local villagers for crop damage. Also, to reach the high grounds of the Karbi Anglong hills the animals have to cross a National Highway and a number of them get killed by the speeding vehicles. Further, within the park a number of animals die in the floods - 129 rhinoceros , 1,050 deer, 68 wild boar, three baby elephants, two tigers and numerous smaller species died in the floods of 1988.
On the flip side, the floods play a crucial role for Kaziranga. They keep the area marshy - a must for the rhino and the swamp deer. The grasslands owe their existence to the floods - without floods the grasslands would turn into areas with trees. The disappearance of the grasslands would lead to the disappearance of herbivores that thrive on these grasses. Migratory birds come to Kaziranga because of the numerous water bodies, which are rich reservoirs of food (including fish). The floods help by annually filling the pools with fresh and clean water thus creating conditions for the fish population to increase. Water is an important constituent of the park with 29 per cent of the area covered by swamps, four per cent by rivers and eight per cent by miscellaneous water bodies. These wetlands offer almost unlimited supplies of fish, insects and aqua flora, the foundation upon which Kaziranga's birds and animals exist.
While this cycle of life and death is played out every year, what makes Kaziranga the conservation success it is today is the dedication of the staff who have been entrusted with protecting it. Its staff lives in terrible conditions, face gunfire, floods and jungle-fire - yet when they are transferred from Kaziranga, they leave with tears in their eyes. The staff does not believe in using their guns on charging rhinos or elephant bulls - "Bullets are for poachers" is what they say. Till date 12 foresters have sacrificed their lives so that the rhino and other species of Indian wildlife can survive in Kaziranga National Park.