A Jeep Safari to Kaziranga National Park (India) & Spotting One-horned Rhinos

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‘That’s the signal of a tiger coming!’

Mozid Ali, our driver got all excited and turned off the engine.

On our left stood a group of deer, some together, some solitary. They all stood frozen to the ground, tails up, heads high and alert. We scanned the landscape around us: high grass, open stretches, solitary trees. What an ending it would be to spot a tiger after having driven through the vast Kaziranga National Park for 2,5 hours.

Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve

The 166-square-mile park was founded in 1905 (then consisting of 90 square miles). The park was extended, changed names over the century and also became a tiger reserve. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO, Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the last natural areas in Northeastern India and regarded as one of the finest wildlife refuges in the world.

It is particularly known for its protection of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, which was close to extinction at the turn of the 20th century. Until recently, poaching was a serious problem but the Indian government has enforced a stricter policy on poachers, resulting in a rise of 2,401 rhinos in 2015 to 2,613 rhinos in 2018.

The park’s ‘big five’ are the rhino (2,613), Indian elephant (1,940) , eastern swamp deer (468), Bengal tiger (118), and wild water buffalo (also known as Asian buffalo, 1,666 ). Among many other types of animals, park is home various types of monkeys as well as deer (hog deer, samba deer, barking deer).

It is also home to many types of (migratory) birds, among which eagles storks, pelicans, herons and bright-colored kingfishers. Except for the tiger.

An unpaved, elevated road cuts through through 13-feet high elephant grass, meanders through forest and follows rivers. The park has a strict policy of not being allowed to exit the vehicle, except at a few dedicated point where you can climb watch towers to get a better feel of the vastness of the park and who knows, spot that tiger in the distance.

At open areas with water it was easy to spot many deer, we spotted a number of elephants, wild water buffalos as well as rhinos. In the forest were many hog deer, unfazed by us driving by, and macaques. 

Watching Wildlife Outside the Park

Unfortunately, the tiger remained hidden, at least today. Ala, and we exited the park without having spotted one. We had heard from several jeep safaris that week that had spotted a tiger, so it’s not entirely impossible.

It was a joy to see so many other animals animals, but frankly, you don’t necessarily need to enter the park to spot them. When driving the main road along the western fringes the day before, we had already spotted four rhinos, an elephant, and herds of buffalo and deer. 

My joy mostly existed in getting a feeling for the grand scale of the park. To see that, no matter the infringement of settlements with rice paddies along its sides, which should be curtailed, such a vast area remains (largely) untouched by humans and is home to only animals.

To see that initiatives actually exist and work, to hear the jeep drivers being exited about spotting wild animals, wanting to share this beauty with us. It gives hope to mankind and, while we still have a long way to go, to wildlife and the planet.

Practicalities:

  • The park is divided up in three areas: west, central, east. 
  • Jeep safaris are organized through a cooperative of locals. Depending on what part of the area you visit, you pay between 2200 and 2700 rupees (Feb ’23) for a 2,5 to 3-hour ride. This price is for the jeep, and if you want to cut the fee you can share it with others. You can book these jeeps at the entrance of the park.
  • Some drivers speak English.
  • You’ll find higher prices on the internet, given by tour operators which include their fee or maybe provide a full package including accommodation. 
  • We stayed on the south side of the central entrance, on the other side of the main road. There are a number of tourist lodges, as well as the jeep safari office. (turn-off from the main road at gps waypoint 26.589529, 93.400899).
  • More info on Kaziranga National Park and Tiger reserve here.

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