Kaziranga National Park (Or Kazirônga Rastriyô Uddan) is a national park in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state of Assam, India. A World Heritage Site, the park hosts two-thirds of the world's Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. Kaziranga boasts the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. 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. Compared to 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, crisscrossed 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 park experiences three seasons: summer, monsoon, and winter. The winter season, between November and February, is mild and dry, with a mean high of 25°C (77°F) and low of 5°C (41°F). During this season, beels and nallahs (water channels) dry up. The summer season between March and May is hot, with temperatures reaching a high of 37°C (99°F). During this season, animals usually are found near water bodies. The rainy monsoon season lasts from June to September, and is responsible for most of Kaziranga's annual rainfall of 2,220 mm (87 in).
Kaziranga is one of the few wild breeding areas outside Africa for multiple species of large cats, such as Indian 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 86, as per the 2000 census. Other felids include the Jungle Cat, Fishing Cat, and Leopard Cats. 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 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 Ganges Dolphin.
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.
Thick evergreen forests, near the Kanchanjhuri, Panbari, and Tamulipathar blocks, contain trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus rumphii, 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, Grewia serrulata, Mallotus philippensis, Bridelia retusa, Aphania rubra, Leea indica, and Leea umbraculifera.
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. The park remains closed for visitors from mid-April to mid-October due to monsoon rains. Four tourist lodges at Kohora and three tourist lodges inside the park are maintained by the Department of Environment and Forests, Government of Assam. Private resorts are available outside the park borders.
Authorised guides of the forest department accompany all travellers 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 mid-May. 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. The nearest town is Bokakhat 23 kms (14 mt) away. Major cities near the park are Guwahati (217 kms (135 mt)) and Jorhat (97 kms (60 mt)). Furkating 75 kms (47 mt), which is under the supervision of Northeast Frontier Railway, is the nearest railway station. Jorhat Airport at Rowriah (97 kms (60 mt) away), Tezpur Airport at Salonibari (approx 100 kms (62 mt) away), and Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati (approximately 217 kms (135 mt) away) are the nearby airports.
In Popular Culture:
Kaziranga has been the theme of, or has been mentioned in, several books, songs, and documentaries. The park first gained international prominence after Robin Banerjee, a physician turned photographer and filmmaker, produced a documentary titled Kaziranga, which aired on Berlin television in 1961 and became a runaway success. American science fiction and fantasy author, L. Sprague de Camp wrote about the park in his poem, "Kaziranga, Assam". It was first published in 1970 in Demons and Dinosaurs, a poetry collection, and was reprinted as Kaziranga in Years in the Making: the Time-Travel Stories of L. Sprague de Camp in 2005.
Kaziranga Trail (Children's Book Trust, 1979), a children's storybook by Arup Dutta about rhinoceros poaching in the national park, won the Shankar's Award. The Assamese singer Bhupen Hazarika refers to Kaziranga in one of his songs. The BBC conservationist and travel writer, Mark Shand, authored a book and the corresponding BBC documentary Queen of the Elephants, based on the life of the first female mahout in recent times-Parbati Barua of Kaziranga. The book went on to win the 1996 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Prix Litteraire d'Amis, providing publicity simultaneously to the profession of mahouts as well as to Kaziranga.