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Kaziranga National Park (47,171 ha) is an internationally famed wilderness, mainly known for the Indian One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis. However, Kaziranga has large populations of many others endangered species, notably the Tiger Panthera tigris, Wild Buffalo Bubalus arnee (= bubalis) (largest population in the world), Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Swamp deer Cervus duvaucelii and many more. However, it is equally rich in avian diversity with more than 490 bird species. Situated in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra river, it covers parts of Nagaon, Golaghat and Sonitpur districts of central Assam. Panbari and Kukurakata Reserve Forests, small but important areas for many forest bird species, lie just outside the Park, but are included in the IBA. The Kaziranga authorities administer these reserve forests. Kaziranga is a world heritage site, a part of the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve and is a proposed Ramsar site. The terrain of the Park is flat (67-80 m above msl), with an east to west and south to northwest incline. Being in the floodplain of the Brahmaputra River, the soil of the Park is mainly recent alluvium. Floods are an annual phenomenon, and 50-70 per cent of the total landmass gets submerged for many days. The floodwaters generally recede after 7-10 days. Areas along the base of the Karbi Anglong (a plateau) are at a higher elevation (80 msl) and form natural ‘highlands’ that do not get flooded. Soil erosion and the shifting course of the Brahmaputra induce constant change in the total area of the landmass. Numerous small rivers and channels flow through the Park from east to west and some, which originate from the Karbi plateau in the south, run northwards and ultimately drain into the Brahmaputra river. Shallow oxbow lakes, locally known as ‘beels’ are the relicts of older channels. There are many such beels inside the Park. Some beels have been silted up, producing swamps and marshes. Consequently, there has been an increase in areas of tall grass and a reduction in areas of short grass. The habitat of Kaziranga is such that waterbodies and grasslands form a significant part of the Park’s area. Wetlands cover 7%, grasslands 57% (tall grass 52%; short grass/marshes 5%), sand 7%, and woodland 29% of the total area of the original Park (Kushwaha and Madhavan Unni 1996; Kushwaha 1997). There are three main types of vegetation: alluvial inundated grassland, Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest and Tropical Semievergreen forest. Grasslands predominate in the west, with tall elephant grass on the higher ground and short grasses on the lower ground surrounding the beels. Erianthus ravennae, Phragmites karka, Arundo donax, Imperata cylindrica and Saccharum spp. are the main grass species. The herbaceous Alpina allughas grows abundantly all over the grassland, especially in the damp areas. Amidst the grasses are numerous forbs, and scattered trees of Bombax ceiba, Dillenia indica, Careya arborea and Emblica officinalis. Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests, near Kanchanjuri, Panbari, and Tamulipathar blocks, are dominated by trees such as Aphanamixis polystachya, Talauma hodgsonii, Dillenia indica, Garcinia tinctoria, Ficus sp., Cinnamomum bejolghota and Syzygium sp. Tropical Semi-evergreen Forests occur near Baguri, Bimali and Haldibari. Barringtonia acutangula grows in the waterlogged areas.
AVIFAUNA: Kaziranga NP harbours more than 478 bird species (Barua and Sharma 1999) now increased to 490 (Choudhury 2003), including 24 globally threatened species. While it would not be possible to describe status and distribution of each threatened species, it is worth mentioning that Kaziranga is one of the outstanding IBAs, especially for birds of the tall, wet grasslands of the Assam Plains Endemic Bird Area and Biome-12 (Indo-Gangetic Plains). Out of the 478 bird species listed by Barua and Sharma (1999), 197 are residents, 165 are migrants, 46 are local migrants, and the status of the remaining species is uncertain. Notable resident species with significant populations are: Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis, Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus, Swamp Francolin Francolinus gularis, Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis, Pallas’s Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Greater Grey-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus, White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis, Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, Bristled Grass-Warbler Chaetornis striatus, Marsh Babbler Pellorneum palustre, Blackbreasted Parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris and Finn’s Weaver Ploceus megarhynchus. Some of the uncommon residents are Oriental White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed Vulture G. tenuirostris, Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus, Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda, Pied Falconet Microhierax melanoleucos, Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius, Jerdon’s Bushchat Saxicola jerdoni, Rufous-vented Prinia Prinia burnesii, Jerdon’s Babbler Chrysomma altirostre and Slender-billed Babbler Turdoides longirostris. Some of the species, especially of the tall grasslands and thick shrubs may not be as rare as thought because finding them is rather difficult, especially on brief bird watching surveys. Possibly, the globally threatened Pale-capped Pigeon Columba punicea breeds in the Park, is considered as a summer visitor by Barua and Sharma (1999). After Manas and Orang, Kaziranga has the largest and most secure population (about 30 individuals) of the highly Endangered Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis in Assam (Narayan et al. 1989). A. U. Choudhury (pers. comm. 2002) did not notice any decline during his surveys in 1995-96. Kaziranga is also famous for its nesting colonies of the Spot-billed Pelicans and Adjutants. Almost all the species of tall, wet grasslands of the Brahmaputra floodplains are found here. Thus, Kaziranga is one of the most important bird areas of India. This fabulous IBA also has 14 Near Threatened species, some of them with significant wintering or breeding populations in the Park. According to the classification by BirdLife International (undated), this IBA lies in Biome-12 (Indo-Gangetic Plains). Thirteen species are listed in this biome, out of which twelve are found here. Bird species of at least six other biomes are also seen, generally in winter. For instance, Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis, Brown-headed Gull Larus brunnicephalus, Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus found in Biome-5 (Eurasian High Montane) occur in Kaziranga in winter. Similarly, Slaty-backed Flycatcher Ficedula hodgsonii, Slaty Blue Flycatcher F. tricolor, Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea, Himalayan Rubythroat Luscinia pectoralis, Chestnut-headed Tesia Tesia castaneocoronata, Grey-bellied Tesia T. cyaniventer, Grey-sided Bush Warbler Cettia brunnifrons, Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler C. major belonging to Biome-7 (Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forests) winters in this site. Kaziranga is also famous for its large populations of waterbirds, especially Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus. In total, more than 20,000 waterbirds are found in the beels and riverine tracts that fall in the national park area. Therefore, this site also qualifies in A4iii criteria. Between 2-3 thousand Bar-head Geese are found in Kaziranga. According to Wetlands International (2002), the total population of this goose is between 52,000 to 60,000, and 1% population threshold is 560. At least 4-5% of the global population of Bar-headed Goose winters at this site, thus qualifying A4i criteria also.
OTHER KEY FAUNA: Kaziranga is famous for its large mammals such as Indian Onehorned Rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, Wild Buffalo, Swamp Deer, Gaur Bos frontalis, Sambar Cervus unicolor and Tiger Panthera tigris. Other fauna in the Park include 15 species of threatened mammals. In addition to the mammals already mentioned, there are the Slow Loris Nycticebus coucang, Capped Langur Trachypithecus pileatus, Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta, Hoolock Gibbon Hylobates hoolock, Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus, Otters (Lutra lutra and L. perspicillata), Gangetic Dolphin Plantanista gangetica, Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak and Malayan Giant Squirrel Ratufa bicolor.
Key contributors: Anwaruddin Choudhury and Asad R. Rahmani.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kaziranga National Park. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/01/2023.