The first step to saving the rhino came about in July 1902, when the Zoological Garden, Calcutta requested Mr J.C. Arbuthnott, the Officiating Commissioner of the Assam Valley Districts, for an adolescent rhino for its conservation campaign. In his discussions with the Chief Commissioner of Assam he pointed out the dwindling rhino population due to their being hunted, but felt that the remaining few still stood a chance of being saved. The Chief Commissioner responded positively and Kaziranga forest block was identified as the place for establishing an asylum for the rhinoceros.
In January 1905, during a trip to Assam, Lady Curzon visited an area close to the present-day Kaziranga National Park, as she had heard stories of its rich fauna. She was taken on an elephant with the mahout being a gentleman who the locals used to call Nigona shikari. Nigona was a self-taught naturalist and knew the jungle inside out. As they went deeper into the forest, Nigona pointed out a rhino in the distance to Lady Curzon. She did not believe him thinking it was a buffalo. By the time they arrived at the spot the animal had disappeared. When Nigona pointed out a series of fresh pugmarks that had three toes on each foot, she was convinced. While answering her questions on the rhino he aired his concern about the indiscriminate killing of the animal. When she wanted to know as to how the rhino could be saved Nigona simply said -" Stop the sahibs from killing them". On her return to Calcutta, Lady Curzon pressed her husband who was the Viceroy of India to issue orders that would prohibit the hunting of rhinos in Assam.
On 1st June 1905, an area of 57,273.6 acres was declared as the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest, and in 1908 it was established as a Reserve Forest. In 1926 Kaziranga was declared a Forest Reserve and hunting was banned. In 1974 it was declared a National Park.
Milestones in Conservation
- 1905 - Declared Proposed Reserve Forest
- 1908 - Declared Reserve Forest with an area of 57,273.6 acres
- 1916 - Declared Game Sanctuary
- 1926 - Hunting banned and declared a Forest Reserve (230 sq. km)
- 1938 - Opened to Visitors
- 1950 - Declared a Wild Life Sanctuary
- 1974 - Declared a National Park
- 1985 - UNESCO declares Kaziranga National Park a World Heritage
- 2005 - Kaziranga National Park celebrates its centenary (1905 - 2005)
From a few dozen rhinos in 1905 to 1700 in 2005, Kaziranga has come a long way. Other success stories which have played out quietly on the sidelines have been the increase in tiger and elephant populations. From 29 tigers in 1972 to 86 in 2000, the growth rate has been very healthy. Kaziranga today has the highest tiger density in the world. Over time, through addition of land, the park size has been increased and now stands at 860 sq. km.
Kaziranga would not be where it is now if it was not for the dedicated foresters and field officers who spend days and nights in the malaria-infested swamps physically protecting the animals from any calamity - be it floods, fire or poachers. Officials are on red alert 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Till date 12 foresters have lost their lives so that Kaziranga and its inhabitants can flourish.
The Assam Forest Department and the Wildlife Trust of India with support from WTI's partner, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have set up the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at Kaziranga National Park. The Centre deals with distressed wild animals in a scientific manner as per international norms. As per WTI's website the Centre as on August 2004 has attended 253 rescue cases of wild animals in Assam, with 128 animals being successfully treated and released back into the wild.