When Mary Victoria Leiter Curzon, the wife of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, visited Kaziranga and failed 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 a their protection. On 1 June 1905, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 sq. km. Within the next three years, the park area was extended by 152 sq. km to the banks of the Brahmaputra River. In 1908, Kaziranga was designated a Reserve Forest. In 1916, it was converted to a game sanctuary — 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 as 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 sq. km 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.
Kaziranga has witnessed several natural and human-made calamities in recent decades. Floods caused by overflowing of the river Brahmaputra have led to significant losses of animal life. Encroachment by humans along the periphery also has led to a diminished forest cover and a loss of habitat.
The park celebrated its centenary with much fanfare in 2005, inviting descendants of Baroness and Lord Curzon for the celebrations. In early 2007, elephants and two rhinoceros were relocated to Manas National Park, the first instance of relocation of elephants between national parks in India.
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 Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros (2,000+), Wild Asiatic Water Buffalo (1,500+) and Eastern Swamp Deer. Significant populations of large herbivores include Elephants, with limited number of Gaur and Sambar. Small herbivores include the Indian Muntjac, Wild Boar, and Hog Deer.
Kaziranga was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 and has the highest density of tigers in the world (estimated to be one per five sq. km). Other felids include the Jungle Cat, Fishing Cat, and Leopard Cats. Small mammals include the rare Hispid Hare, Indian Gray Mongoose, Small Indian Mongoose, Large Indian Civet, Small Indian Civet, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal, Sloth Bear, Chinese Pangolin, Indian Pangolin, Hog Badger, Chinese Ferret Badgers, and Particolored Flying Squirrels. Nine of the 14 primate species found in India occur in the park. Prominent among them are the Assamese Macaque, Capped, Golden Langur, as well as the only ape found in India, the Hoolock Gibbon. Kaziranga’s rivers are also home to the endangered Gangetic 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 and scavengers. Birds such as the Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Baer’s Pochard are notable. Lesser Adjutant, Black-necked Stork, and Asian Openbilled stork add to avian diversity. Greater Adjutant number is limited and it breeds in and around the park. Riverine birds include the Blyth’s Kingfisher, White-bellied Heron, Dalmatian Pelican, Spot-billed Pelican, Spotted Greenshank, and Black-bellied Tern. Birds of prey include 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. Only the Indian Vulture, Slender-billed Vulture, and Indian White-rumped Vulture have survived. Their sighting is not certain. Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican, and Pale-capped Pigeon are possible to be observed here.
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 Prinia.
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 Water Monitor. Other reptiles include fifteen species of turtle, such as the endemic Assam Roofed Turtle and one species of tortoise, the Brown Tortoise. As amny as 42 species of fish are found in the area, including the Tetraodon.
Four main types of vegetation exist in the park. These 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.
Access: Drive from Guwahati in Assam (5 hrs) or from Jorhat (2 hrs), both are air-linked with New Delhi and Kolkata. The resorts are located along the Guwahati-Jorhat road which passes through the park, wild animals found crossing this through fare and Rhino spotted from road itself.