Brief History of Kaziranga National Park

The vast forest areas of Brahmaputra flood plains of Assam in the present districts of Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur, became known as Kaziranga, believed to be, way back to in the last decade of 17th century during the regime of Ahom King Swargadeo Rudra Singha. If legend is to be believed, the word Kaziranga has been derived from the Karbi language (a local tribal language). The area was full of wild goats which use to track the areas to the beels and river to drink water and the local Karbi inhabitant of the area used to come across them very frequently. The wild goats referred as ‘Karjo’ and river and stream is referred as ‘Langso’ in Karbi language. The fused words Karjo- langso over the year got twisted into Kaziranga. There are several other Legends as to how the name Kaziranga came to being.

The entire Kaziranga area was formed by the alluvial deposit of the Brahmaputra River and its smaller tributaries which carry a great amount of silt during the rainy season every year. The riverine area thus formed are colonized by Saccharum and other pioneer grass species as soon as the land masses are stabilized. But before the succession of other pioneering tree species can start probably such land masses again get eroded away. This type of land formation and vegetational succession can be observed even now in the chapories (river island) formed along the course of the Brahmaputra river.

The family Amynodontidae, also known as “aquatic rhinos,” dispersed across North America and Eurasia, from the late Eocene to early Oligocene. The amynodontids were hippopotamus-like in their ecology and appearance, inhabiting rivers and lakes, and sharing many of the same adaptations to aquatic life as hippos.

The Dhansiri river which originates in the Naga Hills once discharged into Brahmaputra river after flowing through Kaziranga. But this course of the river has since been abandoned and the present point of confluence of the Dhansiri river is about 5 Kms. east outside the park. The abandoned course now flowing through the park is now called the Mori Dhansiri (Dead Dhansiri) river. Probably numerous other channels of the Brahmaputra river criss-crossing entire area were once flowing through Kaziranga in the initial stages of land formations. When channels were land locked by further silt depositions and changing of course of the Brahmaputra river they formed into the Beels(lakes) of various sizes and depths. The process of erosion and land formation in this manner is still going on along the northern boundary of Kaziranga.

The entire area around Kaziranga was very thinly populated and permanently settled villagers existed only at Bokakhat and towards its east on one side and Jakhlabanda and westwards on the other side. The area intervening these two places was full of wild animals in the adjoining forests of the Karbi Anglong Hills and the grassland of Kaziranga, which formed one single unit of the ideal wildlife habitat. But before the turn of the present century the area was gradually opened up for human settlement and the forests covering the gentle slope of the Hills were cleared for tea cultivation in the entire area from Bokakhat to Jakhlabanda. Along with the destruction of the habitat of the animals by human settlers and the early tea planters went on at an alarming rate. The animals were probably forced to seek shelter in the remote hills and the riverine grass jungles. The Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros (more on Rhinoceros and their evolution and mention in history), which was once distributed all over the upper Gangetic plains and the Brahmaputra valley, was already extinct in the former habitat. In the latter habitat also the surviving population of rhinoceros in appreciable number were confined to Kaziranga only. Ruthless killing of rhinoceros even in this area created such a situation that they become rare and it was believed that only a few of them – not more than a dozen rhinos were left by the turn of the 20th century.

Realizing the gravity of the situation the Govt. of Assam initiated the proposal to declare Kaziranga as a reserve forest in the year 1903-04 primarily for the preservation of wildlife including the rhino. The preliminary notification declaring the intention of the Govt. to declare Kaziranga as a reserve forest was published vide notification No.2442 R dated the 1st June 1905. The area proposed for reservation consisted of 57,273.6 acres of land from approximately the present southern boundary of the park to the Difloo river on the North falling partly under Namdoyang Kaziranga Mouza of Golaghat Sub-Division and partly under Rangalugarh Mouza of Nagaon Sub-Division. Within the limit of this boundary there were only two temporary villages at that time carrying on Pam cultivation on the bank of the Brahmaputra River on annual lease basis. One of this was Dobaduar or Barchapori Hatibondha village consisting of 20 house holds which at that time was about two years old and the other was Upper Teliagaon consisting of 27 house holds which at that time was about 8 to 9 years old. In addition there were about 16 acres of annual leased land belonging to the villagers of Harmoti and Bagori within the proposed area. The two villages were ordered to be shifted after payment of compensation @Rs.25/- per household having land over 20 bighas and @ Rs.15/- per household having land under 20 bighas. The annual leases were not renewed. No rights or concessions were admitted. Finally an area of 56,544 acres of land was declared as a reserve forest vide notification No.37F dated the 3rd January 1908. But subsequently 1441.6 acres of land opposite to Kuthori and Baguri villages was de-reserved vide notification No.2069F dated the 18th April 1911. The reasons for deforestation were to allow the villagers free access to the Moridifolu river for water supply and for providing a grazing ground. Another consideration in favour of the deforestation was to allow the Hatikhuli Tea garden and the Kuthori Tea garden to continue to despatch tea by boat through this river.

But the measures taken so far and the area of Kaziranga reserve forests were found inadequate for preservation of the rhinoceros. The reason for this was that the vast area outside the reserve forests used to be burnt early in the year and the new grasses growing on it attracted the wild animals and the rhinoceros to feed on it and outside the reserve. Anybody was at liberty to shoot a rhinoceros. As such – it was proposed to extend the Kaziranga reserved forests by adding an area of 16,347 acres vide notification No.5311 F dated the 17th October 1911 with the main object to offer further protection on the rhinoceros which was in danger of being exterminated. The proposed extension included a tract of land to the east of the existing reserve towards the Bokakhat Dhansirimukh road.

The main objections raised by the local people against the extension of the reserve forest were concerning Grazing, Fishing facilities, for extracting cane, thatch and firewood etc. But all these claims were justly rejected on the ground that vast areas were still available for these purposes outside the proposed area. The European community of tea planters objected to the proposal mainly on the ground that the area available for big game shooting would be greatly reduced. While disposing off this objection the then Forest Settlement Officer Major A Playfair, Dy. Commissioner, Sibsagar District reported “There are several keen sportsman among them and it is an undoubted fact that the areas of their operations have been greatly restricted. Our object is to preserve the rhinoceros and the herds of buffaloes in these parts, and were it only the real sportsman whom we had to deal with, the newly made game laws might be sufficient. There are however, certain persons who have few scruples against whom further restrictions have to be aimed. An alternative to constituting an addition to the Kaziranga reserve would be to prohibit entirely the shooting of rhinoceros for a certain number of years and then to issue only a limited number of permits per annum. I have consulted persons who are well acquainted with the game in the part of the district and the highest estimate made of the number of rhinoceros in the Kaziranga reserve is twenty pairs”.

Another objection was that during the rainy season there used to be a good deal of boating down the Diflu and the Mori Dhansiri river through which tea from the neighboring gardens were taken into the Brahmaputra river. On consideration the Forest Settlement Officer excluded an area of 2841 acres of low lying land from the proposed area of extension to facilitate the transport of tea by these rivers. Finally an area of 13,506 acres was added to the Kaziranga reserve vide notification No.295 R dated 28th January 1913. Another proposal to add the entire north of the existing reserve from the confluence of Diflu river with the Brahmaputra to the point of confluence of Dhansiri river with the Brahmaputra river was taken up vide notification No.1813 R dated the 23rd April 1914. The objective of this addition was to afford extra land to the wild animals and provide shelter to them during the flood as the ground was comparatively higher and protect the wild animals from the danger of possible epidemics spreading through the domestic livestock. There were four villages within the proposed area consisting of 49 households viz Lotabari, Bahoni with 13 houses, Latabari, Charighoria with 16 houses, Arimora with 14 houses and Ahom Chapori with 6 houses. All these were temporary villages having annual lease of land and were in existence for about 6 years at that time. Though the villagers did not submit any written objection to the proposal compensation @Rs.50/- per house and @ Rs.20/- per granary. The presence of a large number of domestic buffaloes belonging to Nepali graziers in the proposed area entailed lot of deliberation and cause much delay in the Final constitution of the Reserved forest. However the Chief Commissioner decided in favour of constituting the reserve and remarked “It is at present used as a grazing ground, and this preserve of herds of tame buffaloes in this locality means that sooner or later cattle disease will spread into the game reserve and the interesting fauna of the province will be destroyed. The entire objects of the existing reserve will in fact be qualified”.Finally an area of 37,529 acres of land extending the Kaziranga Reserve up to the Brahmaputra river was notified vide notification No.3560 R dated the 26th July1917. No rights or concession of any nature was admitted. An area of 151 acres was further added to the Kaziranga reserve vide notification No.FOF/WL/512/66/17 dated the 7th April 1967 extending the reserve to the south of the National Highway No.37 to provide a corridor to the animals to cross over to the Karbi Anglong Hills during the flood. Immediately after the declaration of Kaziranga as a reserve forest in 1908 it was closed to hunting, shooting, trapping of wild animals and fishing by an executive order from H. Carter, the then Conservator of Forests, Eastern Circle, Kaziranga reserve was declared to be a Game Sanctuary in 1916 for the first time by an executive order from W.F.L, Hotten then Conservator of Forests, Eastern Circle, Assam with the approval of Chief Commissioner vide notification dated 10th November 1916. In 1950 the then Senior Conservator of Forests P.D.Stracey ordered that the term “Game Sanctuary” should be replaced by the term “Wild Life Sanctuary”. Thus Kaziranga Wild Life Sanctuary came into being.

The proposal to declare Kaziranga as a National Park was taken up with due earnestness by the then Chief Conservator of Forests P. Baruah and to fulfil this objective “The Assam National Park Act of 1968″ was passed by the Govt. of Assam. As there was no provision to create a National Park under the existing Forest Regulations. The notification declaring the intention to declare Kaziranga as a National Park was published vide notification No.FOR/WL/722/68/45 dated the 23rd September 1969. The area was almost the same as that of the existing sanctuary except that the river Moridiflu, Mori Dhansiri and Garumorajan and park of Sildubi PGR were proposed to be included in the National Park for affording better protection. After much deliberations and hearing of the objections of the local people Kaziranga was finally declared as a National Park covering an area of 42993 haters vide notification No.FOR/WL/722/68 dated 11th February 1974.

First Map of Kaziranga National Park 1908.

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