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  Kanha National Park

Distance : 65km from Mandla, 169km from Jabalpur, 330km from Nagpur
Altitude : 1,480 to 2,950ft (450-900m)
Temperature : Max 43 degree, Min 11 degree Celsius
Rainfall : 1,250mm

¤ Kanha - Idle Location For Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book
Kanha Tiger Reserve became famous when the author Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book in 1894, setting his story in Kanha’s forests. While in Kanha National Park, you will see the dramatic beauty of the forest and the immense variety of wildlife that must have fired the author’s imagination, and ample opportunity for elephant safari.

Even before Kipling, Kanha National Park(like many other National Parks in India) was famous as a preferred hunting ground for rulers and viceroys. The first effort to conserve this area was in 1933, when about 250sq km of the forested Kanha valley was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. Another 300sq km of the adjoining Supkhar Sanctuary was added to the original area, only to be de-notified within a few years, after which just the original 230sq km of wilderness remained protected.

¤ Opened As A Hunting Ground
oftentimes, unpleasant incidents have made us sit up and realize that certain forest areas needed to be protected. A famous cricketer in the early 1950s, Maharaja Kumar of Vijayanagram was allowed to shoot as many as 30 tigers in and around the Sanctuary for the sheer sake of sport. This incident was followed by a public outcry that forced the authorities to formulate a special legislation and declare the area a National Park in 1955. The size of Kanha National Park increased to 318sq km in 1962, and again to 446sq km in 1970. In 1976, Kanha National Park became a part of Project Tiger that was launched in 1972, giving the Park its present area of 940sq km. This is surrounded by an additional buffer area of 1,005sq km. Project Tiger was essentially a conservation effort begun by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Its main objective was to ensure that the poaching of tigers stopped, and to secure the tiger habitat.

¤ Flora & Fauna
Mammals & Reptiles
Today, Kanha National Park is one of the most famous Tiger Reserves in India, and it harbors a rich diversity of plants and animals. A photographer paradise, Kanha offers unlimited possibilities of capturing wildlife on film. Kanha Tiger Reserve is often called Tiger Land, and visitors narrate innumerable and unforgettable instances of tiger sightings. Even in terms of conservation, the National Park has been a remarkable success, and has protected a number of species that might otherwise have been altogether extinct.

Vegetation in Kanha National Park varies with altitude. The meadows, speckled with climbs of the great sal tree (Shorea robusta), are interspersed with larger areas of the great sal forests. In the higher reaches, bamboo becomes more prominent till the mixed jungle with almost 70 species of trees, replaces the bamboo trees. Finally, the flat tops of the ridges, locally known as dadar, are covered with grasslands sparingly scattered with trees.

The Predator Population Supports The Eco-system
In an ecosystem, the key indicators of the vitality of the system are the predators. A thriving predator population in a forest is indicative of an abundance of the prey species (like deer), and of the entire food chain. Kanha Tiger Reserve has a variety of predators of all sizes, both from the cat family (like tigers and leopards) as well as from the dog family (like jackals, wolves and wild dogs). The tiger is the largest predator here, capable of killing the mighty gaur (Indian bison). The fierce leopard is usually nocturnal and very elusive, so much so that a leopard sighting is even more rare than that of a tiger despite the fact that leopards outnumber tigers. Among the small cats, Kanha National Park is home to the jungle cat and rattlesl that feast on small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards and carrion.

The Deadly Dhole
The dog family is also well represented in Kanha Tiger Reserve. The Indian fox, the jackal, the striped hyena and the dhole (Indian wild dog) are common in the Park. The dhole is perhaps the most misunderstood of all these predators. All predators kill to survive, but the dhole has a reputation of being a bloody killer. What has earned the dhole this reputation is the way in which it kills. Almost all other predators kill in terrain that has some cover. The dhole is a coursing predator that kills mostly in open terrain. It hunts in packs, (up to 40 dholes can form one pack) that synchronize their attack. The pack splits into two; one group chases the prey, flushing it towards the other half of the pack. The dhole pack runs after its unfortunate prey, biting off flesh from the animal until it falls. What follows the chase is not a pretty sight either. The prey is usually large, and since the dhole lacks the killing bite of the large cat, the only way to kill its prey is by biting off chunks of meat, thereby bleeding the animal to death. Large dhole packs can kill animals as big as the gaur (Indian bison), and incidents have been reported where a pack was able to kill a tiger.

All this had made the dhole a very dreaded predator. Until 25 years ago, it was seen as a pest and falsely accused for being responsible for the decline in the number of deer. It carried a bounty on its head and was indiscriminately killed. But fortunately, the dhole is now protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act that forbids the hunting of this animal. More research is being done on the dhole, and for the first time, the focus is on the softer side to this animal.

Other Wildlife Attractions
These forests are a treasure trove of wildlife. Kanha National Park is home to as many as 22 species of large mammals commonly found in the Park, and almost 300 species of birds. Sightings of a common langur (long-tailed monkey), jackal, wild boar, chital (spotted deer), sambar (Indian stag) and blackbuck are not unusual. However, the Indian porcupine, sloth bear, hyena, jungle cat, leopard, chausingha (four-horned antelope) and nilgai (blue bull) are very elusive. Other sightings, such as those of the tiger, gaur (Indian bison), dhole (Indian wild dog), muntjac (barking deer), hare and mongoose need patience, time and luck.

The Barasingha’s Last Resort
The barasingha (swamp deer) is usually a very alert animal. Even while resting at the edge of a meadow, it is always wary of the presence of a predator. The barasingha is an extremely interesting animal to watch in the wild. Its antlers could have as many as 12 tines, which is why the deer is called barasingha (‘bara’ in Hindi means 12 and ‘singha’, antler). The barasingha’s large antlers are often adorned with tufts of grass, like streamers on a Christmas tree.

Take a jeep safari or elephant safari to explore the wild treasures in the Kanha National Park. The sight that is likely to greet you in the morning in Kanha National Park would be that of a large barasingha herd grazing in a chowd (open terrain). A nice way to start your day, but it wasn’t always like that. Once found throughout Central India, this subspecies of the barasingha (Cervus duvauceli branderi) is now restricted to Kanha. It was in Kanha Tiger Reserve that the barasingha was rescued from the brink of extinction. In the 1970s, the barasingha population had dwindled to a mere 66. Serious efforts were made by all concerned authorities, and the swamp deer population gradually increased. The efforts included the enlargement of the barasingha’s habitat through village relocation.

Deer thrive in open meadows and tall grasslands. Unfortunately, because of the threat from human beings and domestic cattle, the barasingha migrated from Kanha. Even today, the population of this subspecies of swamp deer keeps fluctuating and continues to be a cause for grave concern.

Found in the northern part of India, the barasingha (Cervus duvauceli branderi) has a subspecies that is different from its northern counterpart. This ‘other’ barasingha (Cervus duvauceli duvauceli) has pointed and compact hooves that enable it to move with ease on the grassland’s hard terrain. It is not very fond of water and rarely moves into sal forests. Grasslands are vital to the barasingha not only because it feeds almost exclusively on grass, but also because tall grass provides protection to the newborn fawn that is unable to keep up with the herd. Once the fawn is stronger, it will join the herd, but before that, it must stay well hidden from predators. Individuals of the same sex and age form separate schools, and sometimes large herds of almost 40 fawns can be seen frolicking around at one place, very much like children in a classroom.

The adults and fawns graze separately. often engaging in mock fights, the sub-adult males lock their antlers in a trial of strength. However, the more serious fights among the adult males from December to January, the crucial mating season, are a sight to behold. The competing stags lock antlers with all their strength, kicking clouds of dust around them. The females graze around them, seemingly unconcerned by the sight and the sound of the clashing antlers. The young ones can’t help being a little curious, and watch the fight from the corner of their eyes. The winner, after having chased away the loser, basks in mud before reentering the herd. There have been incidents when the antlers of the warring stags had got so intricately tangled that the animals were unable to detach themselves. Not being able to graze nor drink, the animals died a slow death. At times, human intervention failed to detach the barasinghas locked antlers even after the deer had died.

The Tiger in Trouble
If you are in Kanha National Park, you are in Tiger Land. Chances of seeing a tiger here are good despite the fact that the sal forests can get quite dense at places. Seen in its natural habitat, the tiger is one of the most fascinating beasts in the world. It is also almost invisible, be it in greenery or in brown bush. The tiger has this amazing ability to sneak up on its prey without the slightest sound, even while walking on dry undergrowth. But there’s a catch. While a tiger lies in the bush, it is almost impossible to see the animal – it stays perfectly still without a sound. Except for its tail, which it can never hold still, however hard it tries.

George Schaller, a well-known wildlife researcher, did a study in Kanha National Park on the tiger and the major herbivores that form its prey. Conducted in 1967, this research is regarded as one of the best studies on Indian Wildlife, and has inspired other similar projects. These studies show that at its best, Kanha can sustain a rather large tiger population, especially in the core areas of the reserve. But as is the case with other Tiger Reserves in India, the tiger is fighting a battle of survival in Kanha as well. Not only is the tiger being killed, its habitat is continuously being encroached upon and its prey being hunted down by human beings.

Massive Decrease In Tiger Population Due To Hunting
In the early 20th century, there were about 40,000 tigers in the Indian subcontinent. This was before royal shikars (hunts) became a cult for the princes of India. Perched safely on elephants and machans (observation towers), royalty hunted the tiger. Royal hunts were an experience in themselves. While Jim Corbett hunted his man-eaters with a rifle, camping in dense forests for days accompanied only by his dog Robin, the maharajas (kings) found another way to bag their game.

Each state had its own army, and with battles becoming a thing of the past, these troops were used to drawing out game. Hundreds of men armed with weapons, drums, pots, and pans would step into the jungles. Then would begin the noisiest ‘safari’ a forest had seen, the ultimate goal being to drive animals out to where royalty waited to blast away with guns.

Tiger Conservation Programme Launched
Project Tiger, a conservation programme launched in 1972 by India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, adopted the Indian tiger. The project’s main objective was to safeguard the tiger from poachers, but by the mid-90s, the project had lost its initial drive besides, it helped in promotion of wildlife tourism in India.

The poaching of tigers continues, and each and every part of the dead animal fetches a high price in the international market, especially in China where it is widely used in traditional East Asian medicines. Tiger teeth, fangs and claws make exotic and much sought after pendants that are believed to keep evil spirits at bay. Tiger skin fetches an unbelievable price from collectors.

Bird Population
To a casual visitor, Kanha National Park’s bird life might not seem impressive, but if you pay attention, you will find a lot of birds in Kanha. Bird watching is not very simple in Kanha, but is worth the trouble.

Get ready to go bird watching with a pair of binoculars, an identification book (recommended: The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, or Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett) and patience, and you might be in for a field day. The best time to go bird watching on the hills or in the meadows of Kanha is just after daybreak.

The sal forest is not particularly rich in bird life, but the rest of the Park compensates for that. Prize sightings include the Malabar pied hornbill, paradise flycatcher, black vulture, red spurfowl, pied crested cuckoo, Eurasian kingfisher and rosy pastor, to name a few.

Common sightings include those of doves, drogues, pigeons, parakeets, woodpeckers, warblers, herons, teals, quails, swallows, shrikes, mynahs, babblers, flycatchers, pipits, sparrows, egrets and cormorants. Among the birds of prey that rule the skies over Kanha are the serpent eagle, crested honey buzzard, white eyed buzzard, black-winged kite, nightjar, shikra, lagger and shaheen falcon, kestrel and a number of owls including the barn owl and brown fish owl, and owlets. Kanha is also home to some species of vultures, of which only the white-backed vulture is commonly seen. The others like the black vulture, the Egyptian vulture and the long-billed vulture are evasive.

¤ Best time to visit
The best time for viewing wildlife in Kanha Tiger reserves from January to June, but Nov/Dec is also a fairly decent time for sightings. The Kanha National Park is closed during the monsoon and post-monsoon period (end June to beginning November) when most of the Park is inaccessible as the downpour usually washes away portions of the road.

Kanha National Park also facilitates diverse safari options to explore the wildlife of the park. There are jeep safari and elephantsafari options available in the park.

Closed : July 01 to October 31

¤ Transport
Kanha National Park is most accessible from Jabalpur (169km), Bilaspur (301km) and Nagpur (330km). The nearest town is Mandla (65km) with a branch of the State Bank of India that deals in foreign exchange.

(To Jabalpur, 169km from Kanha)
From Allahabad: Ganga-Kaveri Exp, Howrah Exp
From Delhi: Mahakoshal Exp
From Lucknow: Chitrakoot Exp
From Nagpur: Varanasi-Tirupati Exp

Bus :
Private buses are available from Khajuraho, Allahabad, Mandla, Bhopal, Nagpur, Varanasi and other important towns.

Connecting buses from Jabalpur to Kanha.
If traveling via Jabalpur by a Madhya Pradesh Roadways bus, an overnight halt at Kisli is necessary. This could be avoided if you are traveling in a personal or hired car.

Best sightings :
Dawn to 10 a.m.; 4 p.m. to dusk
Gypsies can be hired from Baghira Log Huts
Max six persons per trip

¤ Safari
Once in Kanha Tiger Reserve, you could go around in the Park either by taking upon a jeep safari or elephant safari. Both elephant and jeep safari are permitted only during the day. The best times for sightings are either in the morning from dawn to 10 a.m., or in the evening from 4 p.m. till nightfall, after which the Park is closed for visitors. Over time, wild animals have accustomed themselves to jeeps and elephants, and animal sightings are fairly common.

Many prefer tiger tracking and photography from elephant back, which often involves some systematic tiger tracking. Also, altitude increases visibility. Your guide during the elephant rides will be a mahout, the elephant driver and keeper. Most mahouts are expert trackers and would be able to identify all the possible signs that give away the tiger’s hideout.

A jeep safari can also be taken by hiring the jeep form the park office, to visit the Park. A Forest Department guide must always accompany you on these trips. The meadows in Kanha Tiger Reserve are abuzz with animals like the barasingha, black buck and chital.

The best chances of seeing a gaur (Indian bison) is at Bamni Dadar, also famous for its beautiful sunset because of which it is locally known as Sunset Point. Other places to watch animals are at the waterholes. Animals visit these waterholes around midday, providing an enchanting view from machans (observation towers) that visitors are permitted to use.

Situated in the central meadows of Kanha National Park, Shravantal is a small but ancient earth bund (dam). This tank is important not only because it is the watering source for the area, but also because it provides a good habitat to a number of waterfowls in winter.

If you are interested in archaeology and look forward to monuments on each trip, then head towards Baihar, 15km from Kanha National Park. En route are the ruins of old temples. These black structures are of an impressive architectural style with corrugated shikharas (temple spires).

(Kanha National Park Tour Reservation Form)

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