The history of Kaziranga as a protected area can be traced back to 1904, when Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston, the wife of the Viceroy of India,Lord Curzon of Kedleston, visited the area. After failing to see a single rhinoceros, for which the area was renowned, she persuaded her husband to take urgent measures to protect the dwindling species which he did by initiating planning for their protection.
On 1 June 1905, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 sq km (90 sq mi). Over the next three years, the park area was extended by 152 sq km (59 sq mi), to the banks of the Brahmaputra River. In 1908, Kaziranga was designated a Reserve Forest. In 1916, it was redesignated as a game sanctuary -The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary -and remained so till 1938, when hunting was prohibited and visitors were permitted to enter the park.
The Kaziranga Game Sanctuary was renamed the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary in 1950 by P. D. Stracey, the forest conservationist, in order to rid the name of hunting connotations. In 1954, the government of Assam passed the Assam (Rhinoceros) Bill, which imposed heavy penalties for rhinoceros poaching. Fourteen years later, in 1968, the state government passed the Assam National Park Act of 1968, declaring Kaziranga a designated national park. The 430 sq km (166 sq mi) park was given official status by the central government on 11 February 1974. In 1985, Kaziranga was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its unique natural environment.
Kaziranga has been the target of several natural and man-made calamities in recent decades. Floods caused by the overflow of the river Brahmaputra, leading to significant losses of animal life. Encroachment by people along the periphery has also led to a diminished forest cover and a loss of habitat.
Kaziranga contains significant breeding populations of 35 mammalian species, of which 15 are threatened as per the IUCN Red List. The park has the distinction of being home to the world’s largest population of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (1,855), wild Asiatic water buffalo (1,666) and eastern swamp deer (468). Significant populations of large herbivores include elephants (1,940), gaur (30) and sambar (58). Small herbivores include the Indian muntjac, wild boar, and hog deer. Kaziranga has the largest population of the Wild water buffalo anywhere accounting for about 57% of the world population.
Kaziranga is one of the few wild breeding areas outside Africa for multiple species of large cats, such as Indian tigers and leopards. Kaziranga was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 and has the highest density of tigers in the world (one per five km2), with a population of 118,according to the latest census. Other felids include the jungle cat, fishing cat, and leopard cat. Small mammals include the rare hispid hare, Indian gray mongoose, small Indian mongooses, large Indian civet, small Indian civets, Bengal fox, golden jackal, sloth bear, Chinese pangolin, Indian pangolins, hog badger, Chinese ferret badgers, and particoloured flying squirrel. Nine of the 14 primate species found in India occur in the park. Prominent among them are the Assamese macaque, capped and golden langur, as well as the only ape found in India, the hoolock gibbon. Kaziranga’s rivers are also home to the endangered Ganges dolphin.
Kaziranga has been identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area. It is home to a variety of migratory birds, water birds, predators, scavengers, and game birds. Birds such as the lesser white-fronted goose,ferruginous duck, Baer’s pochard duck and lesser adjutant, greater adjutant, black-necked stork, and Asian open-bill stork migrate from Central Asia to the park during winter. Riverine birds include the Blyth’s kingfisher, white-bellied heron, Dalmatian pelican, spot-billed pelican, Nordmann’s greenshank, and black-bellied tern. Birds of prey include the rare eastern imperial, greater spotted, white-tailed, Pallas’s fish eagle, grey-headed fish eagle, and the lesser kestrel.
Kaziranga was once home to seven species of vultures, but the vulture population reached near extinction, supposedly by feeding on animal carcasses containing the drug Diclofenac. Only the Indian vulture, slender-billed vulture, and Indian white-rumped vulture have survived. Game birds include the swamp francolin, Bengal florican, and pale-capped pigeon.
Other families of birds inhabiting Kaziranga include the great Indian hornbill and wreathed hornbill, Old World babblers such as Jerdon’s and marsh babblers, weaver birds such as the common baya weaver, threatened Finn’s weavers, thrushes such as Hodgson’s bushchat and Old World warblers such as the bristled grass-bird. Other threatened species include the black-breasted parrotbill and the rufous-vented prinia.
Two of the largest snakes in the world, the reticulated python and rock python, as well as the longest venomous snake in the world, the king cobra, inhabit the park. Other snakes found here include the Indian cobra, monocled cobra,Russell’s viper, and the common krait. Monitor lizard species found in the park include the Bengal monitor and the water monitor. Other reptiles include fifteen species of turtle, such as the endemic Assam roofed turtle and one species of tortoise, the brown tortoise. 42 species of fish are found in the area, including the Tetraodon.