Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
Located close to Guwahati, the capital of Assam, Pabitora is high on the agenda of visitors to northeast India. It is only an hour’s drive from the capital. The Sanctuary is known for its dense population of Indian One-horned Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis. Around 70 animals are found in 1,600 ha, making it the most densely populated rhino area in the world! The original Sanctuary area is flat terrain, being on the floodplains, and consists of grassland (c. 70%) with c. 100 ha of forest and some waterbodies (beels). The hill of Raja Mayong, which has been included subsequently in this Sanctuary, is an isolated hillock with Moist Deciduous Forest. Pabitora is traversed by seasonal channels that become lakes in winter. These include Garanga, Haduk, and Tuplung. Tamuliduba is large and close to the main road. Crop fields are present all around this small reserve. Pabitora was a traditional grazing reserve, where the villagers used to graze their cattle and buffalo. It was declared as a Reserve Forest and then a Wildlife Sanctuary to protect the rhinos. In winter, Pabitora becomes a birder’s haven, with thousands of waterfowl thronging the wetlands. Pabitora can be divided into three distinct categories: forest, grassland and water bodies or beels. Only about 13% of the total area is under tree cover, consisting of Albizzia procera, Bombax ceiba, Lagerstromia flosreginae and Barringtonia acutangula. About 72% of Pabitora consists of wet savannah of Arundo donax, Erianthus ravennae, Phragmites karka, Imperata cylindrica, and Saccharum spp. (Barua 1998, Choudhury 2000). The remaining area is covered by beels. Water hyacinth Eichornia crassipes is a major problem, especially to waterfowl, as it forms thick mats on the water surface. Euryale ferox is seen in some open areas. It is a very good breeding ground for Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus and Bronze-winged Jacana Metopidius indicus.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The site contains more than 190 bird species, including many threatened ones such as the Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis, White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis, Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus, Greater Adjutant L. dubius, Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis and Swamp Francolin Francolinus gularis. The Pelicans used to breed here (Choudhury 2000), but no longer do so. The Bengal florican has not been seen since the mid 1990s, due to disturbance. Pabitora grasslands and wetlands harbour most of the representative birds of the Brahmaputra floodplains such as Striated Babbler Turdoides earlei and Yellow Weaver Ploceus megarhynchus. The wetlands of Pabitora attract thousands of waterfowl during winter. The site qualifies for A4iii criteria because more than 20,000 waterfowl are regularly found there. Talukdar (1996) has recorded 57 wetland species, including 16 ducks and geese and four species of storks. During a waterfowl count in 1997, more than 55,000 birds of 36 species were seen (Barua 1998). The site lies in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (Biome-12) and the Assam Plains Endemic Bird Area (EBA 131) where Stattersfield et al. (1998) have identified three species, wholly confined to this EBA (Manipur Bush Quail Perdicula manipurensis, Black-breasted Parrotbill Paradoxornis flavirostris and Marsh Babbler Pellorneum palustre). The last species has been reported from this site (Mrigen Barua pers. comm. 2001). BirdLife International (undated) has identified 13 species in Biome-12. Till now, eight species have been identified from this site, and more are likely to be present.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Besides the Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, Fishing Cat Felis viverrinus, Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Common Otter Lutra lutra, and Wild Boar Sus scrofa are found in the original sanctuary area, while Leopard Panthera pardus, Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis, Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta and Barking Deer Muntiacus muntjak are seen in Raja Mayong area. A herd of feral water buffaloes is present. Reptiles include turtles such as Brahminy Terrapin Hardella thurjii, Spotted Pond terrapin Geoclemys hamiltonii, and various species of snakes.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Grazing and grass collection; Fishing; Encroachment; Poaching.

Being a small Sanctuary surrounded by human habitation, there is constant threat from encroachers, poachers, fishermen and graziers. The grassland birds are often the most affected, as in some winters, there is hardly a sizeable patch of tall grassland. The destruction of the grassland started in 1998 when there was a heavy and prolonged flood, and excessive grazing by domestic stock that followed did tremendous damage so that till 2002, the grass could not recover to its pre-1998 level. With ever-increasing cattle population, there is constant pressure on the grassland. A few Bengal Floricans were not uncommon till the mid 1990s, one or two even up to 1998, but now it is a rarity. A large population of Swamp Francolin occurred in the area, but in 1999-2000, it was reduced to less than a third and their call was rarely heard. There is slight improvement now, but conditions have still not been restored to pre-1998. The villagers of the fringe area often fish in the wetlands, causing disturbance to waterfowl.

Key contributors: Mrigen Barua and Anwaruddin Choudhury.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Downloaded from on 30/11/2022.