The swamp deer live in large herds and prefer the open areas around the waterbodies or Beels in Kaziranga. They prefer grazing during the early morning and late evening hours. The day time is spent lying down in forests in the open areas under the sun during winter. During summer they may be found resting in shade or wallowing in the periphery of the Beels. The rutting season of the swamp deer shows a marked variation from area to area. In Kaziranga the rut begins from the early part of May lasting till about October-November. Hinds participate actively at the age of about two years and the first fawn is born approximately at the age of three years. Only one fawn is born at a time. Apart from human beings, the main enemy of swamp deer is the tiger. Floods also take a toll of the young fawns. During the 1991 census 559 individuals were counted. The highest concentration was to be in Baguri and Haldhibari block.
The tiger is widely distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent with a high degree of adaptability. The tiger is a solitary animal. Association of more than one tiger is mainly of the mother with half grown cubs and that of a mating pair. The home range of a particular tiger is confined to a definite territory varying in size, depending on available prey species, cover and water. The tiger zealously protects its territory against any intruder and marks its limit with signs of scraping on the ground and on trees, scent, spraying and through vocalisation by announcing its presence. However there may be overlap of territories especially of male and females and even transient may utilize the territory of a tiger temporarily as long as there is no confrontation. According to research work carried out by Dr. Ullas Karanth, Kaziranga has the highest ecological density of tigers among the major protected area in India. It may be difficult to spot one, because of the tall grasses that provide excellent camouflage but their presence can be felt everywhere by way of pug marks, kills and territorial markings.
The present distribution of the wild buffalo in the Indian subcontinent is confined to the grassy jungles in Assam and a few pockets in Orissa, Chattisgarh and in the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan. Tall grass jungles, reed brakes combined with swamps and ample water provide an ideal habitat for the buffalo. The wild buffalo lives in herds of varying sizes except the solitary males. The herd generally consists of one dominant adult male, immature juvenile males and cows and calves of all ages. The social groupings of buffalo are quite cohesive and the most cohesive unit is the cow herd with calves and juveniles. The wild buffalo feeds and moves during afternoon and early part of the evening and in the early hours of the morning. During the hot hours of the day they live in mud wallows or in water. The herds remain resident in the vicinity of a permanent water source for prolonged period. They move on to the vicinity of another water source only when fodder becomes scarce. The solitary and the younger bulls may however wander about. Seasonal movements are not very much pronounced but in Kaziranga they move on to the higher grounds in the central portion of the park during the monsoon. The buffalo is typically a grazer but it makes considerable use of browse during the monsoon season, when the grass lands are submerged by flood.
The elephant herds feed during the early hours of the morning and in the afternoon up to the evening. The hot part of the day is spent in the shade of the tree forests and sometimes continues to feed on the branches, barks and leaves of the trees. They are very fond of water and if sufficient water is available nearby, they will spend the day by bathing and playing in water. They generally sleep after midnight or during midday for a short period. They take rest either by sleeping or lying on the ground stretched on one side.
The census of elephants was carried out in Kaziranga National Park during 1993, 1997 and 2002. The data shows that the elephant population of the Park does not remain static throughout the year. Some of them migrate to the adjoining Karbi Anglong Hills at the onset of the monsoon. The well-defined migration routes are through Panbari Reserve Forests and Kanchanjuri. Considering their long migratory route from Kaziranga to Karbi Anglong and Intanki in Nagaland, the Assam Government has already established the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve that covers an area of 3,270 sq kms. This shall greatly help in long-term survival of genetically viable population of this species.
The distribution of the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros in the world is at present confined to some parts in Nepal, North Bengal and Assam. Kaziranga National Park has the distinction of having the world’s largest population of this species.
It prefers swampy areas with extensive grasslands, the main food of the rhinoceros being grasses. Occasionally during lean period it also feeds on Water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes), fruits of some trees such as Trewia nudiflora, Phyllanthus emblica, Zizyphus jujuba etc. and tender leaves of some shrubs, herbs and seedlings of various trees species.
The Rhinoceros is a solitary animal and territorial rivalries have been seldom reported. The association of two animals is confined to mother and calf or a pair of mating Rhinos. During the pre-monsoon season though, aggregations of up to 11 numbers of Rhinoceros have been seen in the same wallow. Their association is confined only to the sharing of the wallow. The rhinos inhabiting the same area develop some sort of familiarity and do not exhibit any intra-specific aggressive behavior under normal circumstances. But the presence of a female in estrous in the area might provoke fighting between two contending males. Similarly the intrusion of a newcomer into a particular territory in search of a female in estrous may induce fighting.
During the pre-monsoon and the monsoon the rhinos spend most of their time during the day in the wallows. During the night they sleep on dry grounds. During winter, wallowing activities are markedly reduced and they graze for longer hours both in the morning and evening. The rhinos make their stay around such wallows and move to the nearby areas for feeding. Normally they do not migrate for long distances. Only during flood, they are forced to seek shelter away from their normal ranges. The rhinos have a peculiar habit of defecating in regular dung heaps. More than one rhino can use the same dung heap for a given period of time. Another habit of the rhino is that it always uses well laid out tracks or ‘Dandis’ from its wallowing place to the feeding grounds and vice-versa while roaming in the grasslands. Also, it always walks on such tracks, which are tunneled by them and laid out into well-beaten tracks by constant and regular use.
There is no fixed breeding season for the rhinos. Young ones are born at any time of the year after a gestation period of 16 months. The calf generally stays with the mother for 1 to 2 years or till the next calf is born. The interval between two births is about 4 years. Female rhinos with calf are more alert and aggressive than others. The only natural enemy of the rhinoceros is the tiger. The tiger attacks the young calves only. The much mystified horn of the rhinoceros is not a horn at all in the true sense and is neither an instrument of attack or defense. It is a conglomeration of Keratin tissues grown into a very thick and compact mass on the skin above the nasal bone.
Though Kaziranga is famous all over the world as the “Rhino Land” or the home of the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros, many other rare and endangered animals also inhabit the National Park, the survival of which is equally dependent on the proper conservation and management of the Park.
Attempts to find out the number of rhinoceroses in Kaziranga were made in 1957, 1961 and 1963. But the method used was very crude and were aimed at finding out the number of rhinoceroses only. During these estimates the number of rhinoceroses in Kaziranga varied from 250-300. Systematic and detail censuses of the larger mammals in Kaziranga were carried out only in 1966, 1972, 1978,1984, 1991, 1993 and 1999. These figures reveal an overall increase of population of all the species of animals, over a period of thirty-three years from 1966-1999. There is an increase in the population of rhino, the prime animal towards which the conservation efforts are oriented along with other species like Buffalo, Tiger etc. It has been generally observed that in almost all the censuses conducted so far, the Bagori block, situated on the western end of the park has the maximum concentration of almost all the animals.
Elephants are great wanderers, and have been traditionally using Kaziranga as their seasonal halt before they continue their onward journey into the Karbi-Anglong hills. However, at a given point of time there can be more than 1,000 elephants in the Park which is one-of the highest sub-populations in the country !
Lady Curzon, wife of the then British Viceroy to India, visited Kaziranga in the winter of 1904. Unfortunately, contrary to her expectations of seeing the great Rhino itself, she could only find a few of its hoof marks. Struck by its perilous state she impressed upon her husband Lord Curzon, the need to save the Rhino. Today a 100 years later, in what can be called this Century’s Greatest Conservation Success Story, the Rhino population at 1600 is the single largest in the world! This story sends a loud and clear message to the entire world – that with strong public and political will and collective action of conservation communities, there is hope yet for other critically endangered species across the globe.
Kaziranga is one of the largest Protected Areas in India and one of the most significant conserved forest areas on the earth. From the time it was declared as a Proposed Reserve Forest for the Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), it has become an exceptional model in conservation, also providing an ideal habitat for numerous other threatened species. Kaziranga is an outstanding example of the ongoing eco-biological processes in the evolution and development of the flood plain ecosystem and its plant and animal communities. It is a symbol for the dedicated commitment of the people who work ceaselessly to protect and preserve this richly diverse biological heritage. Kaziranga has justly earned its place as the flag bearer among all the wildlife conservation efforts across the globe. Into its hundredth year of existence, the tradition continues.