Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wildlife Series from Kaziranga National Park, Assam, North East India

Recently, I spent a full week at Kaziranga National Park with a minimum of 2 jungle safaris per day. These safaris were either on the open jungle jeeps or from on top of an elephant. My wildlife experience here was so rich that I would rate Kaziranga as one of the best National Parks in the country. The wildlife and birding experience is unbelievably rich and it is no wonder that Kaziranga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an important component of ‘Incredible India’.

The One-Horned Rhinoceros – A Mirror Image

The first thing that comes to mind about Kaziranga are its Rhinos. In fact, it is these Rhinos that make Kaziranga so special. It is the only place in the world to see the One-Horned Rhinoceros. It is here in the swamps of the Brahmaputra basin that these Rhinos have found a new lease of life. They exist in such huge numbers here that as a wildlife lover, you are bound to see at least one Rhinoceros during any given safari.

Seeing a Rhino from atop an Elephant

During my multiple trips to the jungle, I saw innumerable Rhinoceros and that too in different poses, positions and in different groups. I saw Rhinos grazing; I saw Rhino fights; I saw Rhinos mating; I saw baby Rhinos; I saw swimming Rhinos; I saw Rhinos snorting; I saw Rhinos crossing the jeep track; I saw Rhinos at 5 feet away from me; I saw fully grown adult Rhinos (male and female) and the list just goes on. This was the first time that I saw the One-Horned Rhinoceros and at the end of the trip, I came back a very satisfied man.

Asiatic Wild Buffalo Stares on from the Jungle Track

Now, let me give you an idea of the Kaziranga landscape. Kaziranga is about 500 sq. km in terms of area and is a heady concoction of elephant grass, swamp land and tropical moist forests. The mighty Brahmaputra river skirts one side of the park and the national highway connecting Guwahati to Jorhat nearly cuts the national park into half. One side of this highway is elephant grass and swamp land, while the other side is tropical forests and hills. Every year during the monsoons, the Brahmaputra is known to swell and flood the entire national park till the highway. The forest department have markers that show the flood levels for each year. This is the time when the national park is closed to the tourists. This time is also the mating season.

Asiatic Wild Buffalo and its mighty Horns

The main tourist season begins in November and lasts till April, though the final dates are dependent on the effect of the monsoons that year. The first half of this tourist season, November to January, is when the national park is totally green and one can see 10-20 feet high elephant grass on the plains. Come January, the forest department burns the grass and create a barren atmosphere. This burning of grass helps in rejuvenating the soil and also helps in better wildlife sighting. So, if you are going to Kaziranga for great wildlife sighting, then February to April is the best time to go. If you prefer greener environment, then November to January would be ideal.

Asian Elephant amidst the mighty Elephant Grass

But, it is not just the One-horned Rhinoceros that makes Kaziranga special. Kaziranga also has one of the highest density of Royal Bengal Tigers in the country. The green terrain does make it difficult to sight a tiger, but then you never when the elusive cat decides to bless you with its presence. I got lucky in this department too as I saw one Royal Bengal Tiger during my week long trip in spite of the extremely green surroundings. Unfortunately, for me, the tiger was too far away for photography, but then its sight was simply enough to make me glow with happiness for days.

Male Barasingha (Swamp Deer) and its lovely antlers

The Kaziranga elephants are also very special. It is here that one gets to see them in huge numbers. I was lucky to see herds of 20 plus elephants more than a couple of times. And it was heartening to know that their numbers are healthy as I saw a lot of young elephants in that herd. Now, do you know why the wild grass growing in Kaziranga is referred to as ‘Elephant Grass’. Well, this is my two-pronged theory. One, the elephants consider this type of grass as a delicacy and can be seen feeding on them extensively. Second, you would hardly notice if an entire elephant herd were grazing within the grasslands. Such, is the size of this grass. In fact, there were many instances, when we had to crane our heads and see if an elephant was hiding in these grasses.

Wild Boar

The other mammal that is synonymous with Kaziranga is the Asiatic Wild Buffalo or the Wild Water Buffalo. I am sure you would have gaped in wonder on seeing the African Wild Buffaloes on National Geographic, Animal Planet or Discovery. Well, the Asiatic Wild Buffaloes are much larger than their African counterparts and are blessed with even bigger horns. The horns on an adult male is just a work of magic. It is the perfect weapon if the wild buffalo decides to defend itself head-on. Again, I saw these wild buffaloes in huge numbers.

Three Generations of the Elephant Family

Apart from the One Horned Rhinoceros, the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Asian Elephant and the Asiatic Wild Buffalo, I also saw the Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, Smooth Coated Otter, Hog Deer, Common Monitor Lizard, Indian Python and the Makhna (Tuskless Male Elephant).

One-Horned Rhinoceros crosses the Jeep Track

This place is definitely a wildlife delight. But, don’t leave the birds behind. I had a rich birding experience too. Though, that requires a dedicated post just for itself.

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