The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown could not dampen the spirit of 1.11 lakh tourists, including 175 foreigners, from visiting the UNESCO world heritage site Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNP & TR), considered as one of the best conserved wildlife reserves in the country.
The authorities of KNP & TR, extending across Assam’s five distrcts — Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong — along the Arunachal Pradesh border, expected 1.25 lakh tourists to visit the park in the current season.
KNP & TR Director Karmashree P. Sivakumar said the park and the tiger reserve was closed for three months last year — March to May — and then the four-month-long (June to September) annual flood havoc inundating around 95 per cent of the 1,302 sq km KNP & TR areas.
“In the current financial year (2020-21) so far, 1.11 lakh tourists, including 175 foreigners, have visited KNP & TR and we have earned revenues worth over Rs 2.06 crore. We expect that over 1.25 lakh tourists would visit the park this fiscal,” Sivakumar told IANS over phone.
During 2019-20, 1.74 lakh tourists had visited the KNP & TR and the revenues earned stood at Rs 4.83 crore against 1.76 lakh tourists and revenues of Rs 4.83 crore in the previous year (2018-19).
Over 19,040 foreign tourists had visited the park in the two financial years — 2019-20 and 2018-19.
The Indian Forest Service officer said that a French government delegation led by Barbara Pompili, Minister of France for Ecological Transition, had visited Kaziranga last month to take stock of the work being carried out under a forest and biodiversity conservation project funded by the French government.
“The first phase of the French government sponsored project has been completed. The works for building highlands and other infrastructure were finished. In the second phase, community development work would be undertaken,” he added.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal have separately appreciated the authorities for taming the rhino poaching racket and taking other conservation efforts, besides removing illegal encroachments.
Environmentalist and wildlife expert Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, who received the prestigious IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Heritage Hero Award, said that KNP & TR is a nature’s wonder and great pride of India.
“People from all over the world give utmost importance to this universal property of mother earth. Kaziranga not only protects rich biodiversity and diverse wildlife, but also carries the identity of Assamese people. It must be well protected for future generations,” Lahkar told IANS.
In a major breakthrough, a notorious rhino poacher and smuggler of rhino horns, Jobi Gadi alias Autho Gadi, was arrested from Arunachal Pradesh’s Naharlagun last week.
Gadi has, since 2011, been associated with poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga and selling their horns in international markets.
“Around 70 cases including 17 rhino related cases were registered since last year and around 100 people, including 38 in rhino related cases, were arrested in connection with poaching of animals and other related crimes,” Sivakumar said.
Set up in 1908, the KNP & TR, one of India’s seven UNESCO world heritage sites in the natural and environment category since 1985, is home to more than 2,400 one-horned Indian rhinoceros, approximately two third of the total world population.
Besides rhinos, the KNP & TR has 121 tigers, 1,089 elephants and huge numbers of Asiatic buffalo, swamp deer, wild boar, hog deer, porcupine and other endangered animals and snakes.
Like previous years, the floods in Assam (from June to September last year) badly hit KNP & TR, when 18 rhinos and 135 other wild animals died due to the deluge.
Sivakumar said that 172 wild animals were rescued from the flood waters last year.
In 2019, 263 animals, including many endangered rhinos, were killed in the floods while 169 animals were rescued.
“All-out efforts are being made, including construction of highland, to take care of the animals in the national park to protect them during the floods and other calamities,” he said.
In a significant development, during the latest Census conducted earlier this month, the number of waterfowls in KNP & TR increased by 173 per cent to 93,491, belonging to 112 species against last year’s 34,284 birds of 99 species.