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The Keoladeo National Park, better known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is renowned the world over for its avifauna. A great assortment of mammals can be sighted here as well. A unique feature of the wetland ecosystem of the Keoladeo National Park is its origin from a natural depression, which was an evanescent rainfed wetland (Vijayan 1994). The construction of Ajan Bandh, a temporary reservoir, about a km from the present border of the Park, some 250 years ago, and the subsequent flooding of the area, mark the beginning of human involvement in the conversion of this natural depression into a permanent waterfowl reserve (Vijayan 1990). Subsequently, several earthen bunds and sluice gates were constructed to contain and regulate the water level. The water inside the Park, drawn through a canal from Ajan Bandh (3,270 ha) during the monsoon, gradually recedes and the Park dries up in May-June, leaving only some pools in the deeper areas. These pools, which teem with fish, attract flocks of fish-eating birds. Apart from this, a large number of fish die in the drying pools and scavengers have a feast. Turtles become vulnerable to predation during this period, although many aestivate and some take refuge in deeper pools like Mansarovar located in the middle of the Park. Floristic elements and vegetation of Rajasthan have been discussed in detail by Meher-Homji (1970) and Puri et al. (1983). The flora of the Park has been studied extensively by Prasad et al. (1996). The forest areas, which are small pockets mostly in the northeast section of the Sanctuary, are dominated by Mitragyna parviflora, Syzygium cumini, Acacia nilotica and an occasional Azadirachta indica. The open woodland is mostly Acacia nilotica with a small proportion of Zizyphus mauritiana. The scrubland is dominated by Zizyphus, Capparis aphylla, Salvadora oleoides and S. persica. Lantana camara and Adhatoda vasica are common shrubs. The wild species of rice Oryza rufipogon, water lilies Nymphae spp., and Trapa are the important wild macrophytes. Grasses such as Khus Vetiveria zizanioides, Scirpus sp. and Desmostachya bipinnata grow in the uplands, which are flooded for a short duration.
AVIFAUNA: One of the richest bird areas of the world, Keoladeo supports more than 350 bird species (Vijayan 1991). The site falls in Biome-12 representing the bird species of Indo-Gangetic Plains, besides the bird species of Biome-11 (Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone) are also found. The Park qualifies as an IBA under A1 (Threatened Species), A4i (1% threshold population), and A4iii (³20,000 waterbirds). During good monsoon years, it is not uncommon to see a hundred thousand birds. It is one of the major breeding centres of the Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala, Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans, Darter Anhinga melanogaster and various egrets, herons, ibises and other storks. Many ducks, coot and rails occur much above their 1% threshold numbers. Up to five pairs of Black-necked Storks breed in the Park. Two pairs of Pallas’s Fish Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus used to breed till the late 1980s but now, this bird occurs only as an occasional winter visitor. Similarly, Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius has also stopped coming. However, the most famous disappearance of any species is of Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, which has declined from 200 birds in the 1960s to none in 2002. More details are given in Vijayan (1991) and subsequent papers.
OTHER KEY FAUNA: Important herbivores of the Park include the Cheetal Axis axis, Sambar Cervus unicolor, Bluebul Boselaphus tragocamelus and Wild Boar Sus scrofa, whereas the commonly sighted predators include Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Jungle Cat Felis chaus and Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrina. Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena, and Smooth Indian Otter Lutra perspicillata are also found in small numbers. Leopard Panthera pardus is sometimes sighted, and recently, a Tigress Panthera tigris was seen for some months.
Blackbuck Antelope cervicapra has become extinct in recent years, mainly due to habitat changes. Among reptiles, the Indian Rock Python Python molurus is quite common and a major tourist attraction.
Key contributors: V. S. Vijayan and Bholu Khan.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Keoladeo National Park and Ajan Bande. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/12/2021.