Flora & Fauna
Flora and Fauna of Kaziranga, Assam
Much of the state is covered with dense tropical forests of bamboo and, at higher elevations, evergreens. Many valuable trees like Sal, Agar, Segun, Bon Chom etc., found in these forests which help in economic development of the state.
Erianthus is a tall hard reed that grows in loamy soil that gets flooded during the monsoon, whereas Arundo donax or the Giant Reed is found in areas that constantly remain wet. Monochoria haestefolia, a local species of water hyacinth grows in Assam as the whole valley is scattered with lakes, and hence, wetland. The valley is an important breeding ground for Greater and Lesser Adjutant Storks, both globally threatened species. Bombax or the Silk Cotton trees are seen in abundence and these cottons are used for making pillows. In the eastern part of the valley the gradual emergence of Alluvial Semi-evergreen Forest sometimes results in Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest.
There are also other trees like the beautiful Lagerstroemia flosreginae with its mauve coloured flowers, the Hill Clerodendrum Clerodendrum viscosum and the imposing Betel Palms Areca catechu. Betel Palms are grown all over the place and the Assamese chew it with Pan Piper betel, a climber belonging to the same genus as pepper and lime. Another species of Palm – the Fish-tail Palm Caryota urens is also seen.
The woodland of Kaziranga is divided into three main types – Riparian Fringing Forest, Dillenia Swamp Forest and Assam Alluvial Plains Semi-evergreen Forest.
The large tracts of Dillenia Swamp forest were very scenic. Two species of trees – the Elephant Apple Dillenia indica and Dysoxylum binectariferum – are characteristic of this habitat type. These forests are also covered with Rattan Calamus tenuis brakes.
In the semi-evergreen forests, the moist and humid conditions make it suitable for the growth of epiphytes and lianas. Two specific species of Orchids – Rhynchostylis retusa, known locally as Kapou phool and Ornithocalyx teres grow here. Assam’s most celebrated flower, the Kopou Phool, is known to the orchid enthusiast of the West as the Foxtail Orchid. This orchid grows widely across Assam and is worn by young women on their hair during the spring festival of Assam, Rongali Bihu and is symbolic of youth and renewal. The tea plants in Assam are species of Camellia – Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica. A lot of Water hyacinth including Eichornia crassipes, Monochoria haestefolia are seen in the forests of Assam. Water lilies Nymphaea pubescens and Lotuses Nelumbo nucifera are also seen. The Assamese use a lot of bamboo in their day-to-day life. There are several species of bamboo, each having different purposes for use. Wild flowers grow all over the countryside in Assam. Ipomea reptans, a large mauve-coloured flower growing in swampy ground, Leucas aspera, Cassia alata and the silvery-pink Argyreia hookeri are among the attractive wild flowers.
The Kaziranga National Park contains about 15 species of India’s threatened (Schedule I) mammals. It harbours the world’s largest population of Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (E), which has increased from a few dozen in 1908 (Gee, 1964) to some 1,080 in 1984 and 1,100 in 1988. Other mammals include capped langur Presbytis pileata, a small population of hoolock gibbon Hylobates hoolock, tiger Panthera tigris (E), leopard P. pardus (T), sloth bear Melursus ursinus (I), Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E) (523), Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica, otter Lutra lutra, wild boar Sus scrofa (3,645), water buffalo Bubalus arnee (V) (677), gaur Bos gaurus (V) (30), sambar Cervus unicolor (358), swamp deer C. duvauceli (V) (756), hog deer C. porcinus (9,872) and Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak. Population estimates are based on the 1984 census, details of which are given by Choudhury (1987). Elephants and other animals migrate with the advent of the monsoon and head southwards to the Mikir Hills and beyond to avoid the annual flooding of the national park in 1981.
The numerous water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish) and thousands of migratory birds, representing over 100 species, visit the park seasonally from as far afield as Siberia. There is a grey pelican Pelecanus philippensis rookery near Kaziranga Village. Other birds of interest include black-necked stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus, lesser adjutant stork Leptoptilos javanicus, Pallas’s fish eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus, grey-headed fish eagle Icthyophaga icthyaetus, perhaps 25-30 Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (E), swamp partridge Francolinus gularis, grey peacock-pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum, great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis, green imperial pigeon Ducula aenea, silver-breasted broadbill Serilophus lunatus and Jerdon’s bushchat Saxicola jerdoni. The avifauna comprises over 300 species in 1987.