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Kaziranga National Park

Welcome to the land of Rhinoceros Unicornis. The great Indian one-horned rhino, more than two tons of frightening muscle and tank-like belligerence. With its armour-plating hide and its 24Ē long horn- which really isnít a horn, but compressed hair- the Indian rhino once ruled the roost in the wetlands of north-east India. Hunted mercilessly, it was on the brink of extinction when conservationists awoke to its plight. The result, and a successful one at that, is Kaziranga National Park, in Assam. Stretching over an area of 430sq km on the south bank of the Brahmaputra river, Kaziranga is one of the last refuges of the

Indian rhino. A vast stretch of coarse, tall elephant grass, marshland and dense tropical forests, it has managed to survive the onslaught of poachers, urbanization and burgeoning human populations. Plans are already afoot to extend the parkís boundaries to include the Brahmaputra river to the north and a part of the Mikir hill ranges to the south.

Fairly early on- in 1908, in fact- Kaziranga was declared a reserve forest and was officially closed for shooting; at the time it could boast of only a few dozen rhinos. By 1950 the area was a wildlife sanctuary, and in 1974 it was designated a national park. Bounded by the misty blue hills of Barail and Karbi Anglong to the south, the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Today itís one of the few places in India where itís possible to see the rhino out in the open- an awesome sight indeed. And, whatís better still, the rhino population of Kaziranga now numbers more than a thousand of the creatures. Endangered, no doubt, but protected too.

Kaziranga is home also to elephants, sloth bears, tigers, leopard cats, jungle cats, hog badgers, capped langurs, hoolock gibbons, pigs, jackals, porcupines, pythons, wild buffaloes, Indian bison, swamp deer, sambhars and hog deer. Besides these, the park has a respectable avian population, which increases considerably in the winter, when migrating birds visit the park.