India’s wildlife has reached a critical stage in its survival, and the country is fortunate in possessing a sanctuary like Kanha Park, … Above all, Kanha Park is part of India’s cultural heritage, a heritage in many ways more important than the Taj Mahal, and the temples of Khajuraho, because unlike these structures formed by the hands of man, once destroyed it can never be replaced.
George B Schaller 1965
Why Kanha |
Skirted by the Maikal range on its east, Kanha is essentially a collection of flat raised plateaus set in the salubrious Satpuras. Locally known as Dadars, these plateaus are part of the rich Deccan trap that ranks amongst the largest volcanic creations in world. Kanha’s Soil can be largely classified as (i) Alluvial (ii) Sahara (iii) Barra and (iv) Black Cotton. The humus rich soil stratum supports dense vegetation, watered by local tributaries of River Narmada. If River Halon is perennial, Banjar dries up into pools of water during the summer season. Rock formations are mostly high in iron compounds imparting a reddish tinge to them. Inhabited through centuries by tribal mainly from the Gond and Baigas – Kanha is a Gondwana’s heartland.
Kanha has been fortunate to get under the protection cover early when part of it was declared as a Reserve Forest way back in 1879. Post independence, the situation worsened as more and more Indians picked up rifles. During this era of lawlessness massive killings took place in Kanha with “Vizzy” hogging all the limelight. Making unreasonable use of his political associations, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram obtained a “Special Permit” and mercilessly hunted 33 tigers in 1953. With support from political masters, finally in 1955, Kanha was accorded status of a National Park. But this did very little for conserving its immense natural wealth. Hunting was still permissible under the Indian law attracting game hunters from all over the world. Things became streamlined with companies such as “Allwyn Cooper” and “Tiger Trails” who managed shikars with connivance of government authorities. When Kailash Sankhla came to Kanha, he researched on the impact of legalised hunting around Kanha and found, “From 1955 through to 1970, a shikar out-fitter arranged 332 successful hunts for its foreign clients in the forests adjoining Kanha.”
Historically, jungles of Kanha have been a favourite with tigers. If Supkhar was known for hefty tigers, Kanha had been home to thriving tiger populations. As a result of effective implementation of conservation initiatives, tiger count of Kanha has increased from 48 in 1976 to 128 in 2003. Steady relocation of villages has reduced pressure on forests, and left the ecosystem replenished. Besides the main core-buffer, an area of 110 Sq Kms of Phen WLS serves as a satellite micro-core and takes care of dangers arising out of gene stagnation. Availability of an extended tiger corridor, with Pench in south and Achanakmar in North, tigers of Kanha are assured of unhindered movement. Kanha, a frontrunner in conservation, has been a model for others to emulate.
Kahna’s forest can be classified into (i) Moist Peninsular Sal Forest (ii) Southern Tropical Moist Mixed Deciduous Forest and (iii) Southern Tropical Dry Mixed Deciduous Forest. Because of thinner soil strata at dadars, grasslands are commonly seen at these flat beds. Descending down, the high slopes look laden with mixed forests that thicken with Bamboo in the middle reaches. Further down, the jungles becomes thick and luxuriant with the famed carpet of pure Sal forests occupying the ground levels. Kanha’s Sal forests have a classic unmistakable charm of their own; a nostalgic feel capable of taking us back to the good old days of Indian wilderness.
Common Trees | Sal (Shorea Robusta), Saaj (Terminalia Tomentosa), Bija (Pterocarpus Massupium), Jamun (Syzygium Cumini), Mahua (Madhuca Indica), Haldu (Adina Cordifolia), Aonla (Emblica Officinalis), Thwar (Bauhinia Roxburghiana), Semal (Bombax Ceiba), Pipal (Ficus Religiosa), Tendu (Diospyros Melanoxylon), Achar (Buchanania Ianzan), Dhaman (Grewia Tiliaefolia), Ghont (Zizyphus Xylopyrus), Maniphal (Randia Dumentorum), Sendoor (Mallotus Philippensts), Kumhi (Careva Arborea), Bel (Aegle Marmelos), Palas (Butea Monosperma), Kusum (Schleichera Oleosa), Arjun (Terminalia Arjuna), Lasoda (Cordia Dichotoma), Dhaora (Anogeissus Latifolia), Harra (Terminalia Chebula), Bahera (Terminalia Bellerica), Moyen (Lannea Grandis), Banyan (Ficus Bengalensis), Pakhri (Ficus Virens), Lendia (Lagerstroema Parvoflora), Kasahi (Bridelia Squamosa), Ber (Zizyphus Mauritiana), Mango (Mangifera Indica)
Wildlife | Kanha has a bountiful of wildlife in its lap and its conspicuous all over the park. As a complete enriched ecosystem, Kanha offers unmatched wild sightings, ranging from a roaring tiger, to an elegant swamp deer, to innumerable hordes of chitals. Gaurs are spotted easily and so are jackals, which at times even refuse to make way for gypsies. Kisli and Kanha are famed for tiger sighting with “Kanha” categorized as “premium” zone attracting a higher entrance fee. Sunset point of Bamni Dadar is popular with sloth bears, leopards and chausinghas. Langurs can be seen literally everywhere, although Rhesus Macaques are fewer. With a total of 43 mammal species including tiger, leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, jungle cat, small Indian civet, hyaena, jackal, barasingha, chital, sambar, barking deer, chousingha, gaur, langur, and wild boar, Kanha is a complete jungle.
Common Birds | Kanha’s aviary richness is outstanding with close to 300 bird species. Amongst the commonly seen, there are painted stork, open-billed stork, spotted owl, barred jungle owlet, black-shouldered kite, pond heron, green sandpiper, pied myna, common myna, wood sandpiper, red-wattled lapwing, yellow-wattled lapwing, wagtail, sunbird, white breasted kingfisher, stork-billed kingfisher, black drongo, greater racquet tailed drongo, oriental magpie robin, long-tailed shrike, black ibis, rock pigeon, Indian peafowl, grey francolin, jungle babbler, golden oriole, spotted dove, magpie, paddy field pipit, crested serpentine eagle, jungle crow, green bee-eater, honey buzzard, changeable hawk eagle, shikra, paradise flycatcher, verditer flycatcher, black naped monarch, common woodshrike, plum headed parakeet, rose ringed parakeet, greater coucal, red jungle fowl, grey hornbill and Lesser Adjutant Stork.
The best place to observe wildlife is Kanha meadow where a village by the same existed till the early 1970s. Between 1969 and 2010, a total of 28 villages have been relocated to make way for wildlife. Creation and sustenance of these flat grassy meadows has worked wonders for Kanha’s thriving ungulate population, more specifically the hard Ground Swamp Deer or Barasingha. This success has only been achieved because of the indefatigable efforts of forest department by keeping the meadows free from weeds and Sal saplings. Meadows have been systematically conditioned by (i) making controlled fires (ii) tilling the meadows and rowing grass seeds. Water bodies around these meadows are the best places for sighting Barasinghas.
Vantage point of Bamhni dadar, now closed to tourists is a plateau famous for sighting of Sloth Beer and Four horned Antelope (Chausingha). While we were busy observing a pack of birds led by Orange-headed thrush, Bee-Eater, Red Munia and others, our guide spotted a lone Chausingha – the smallest antelope in the entire of Asia, this ungulate has a unique arrangement of horns. Sunset – no, it was more than that! A sweeping panorama from one of the highest points inside Kanha national park, Bamhni Dadar is unmatched for its stupendous aerial views of the emerald valleys of Halon and Banjar below. The unending warped landscape in shades of green effortlessly merged into the hazy horizon. As the colours deepened with the fading sun, a golden glow engulfed the forests.
Mukki, the remotest zone, and understandably the least frequented, is undoubtedly Kanha’s most exotic. This realization dawns upon your conscience the moment you reach the dark forests of Mukki. Crossing river Banjar, we reached the forest entry gate, less crowded, and better managed. The very first look of Mukki looked pleasantly alien from Kisli and Kanha – thicker, denser, and untouched by humans. The straight road that dived into the jungle was surprisingly broad and well paved. Mukki’s claim of fostering hefty hunks is historical; with sound supporting evidences by none other than the legendary A A Dunbar Brander. Although Brander lost accurate measurements of around 200 tiger he witnessed being shot mostly around Central India, he had vivid memories of Kanha. If the largest tiger measured 10’3″, another hunk measuring 9’10” was shot by Royal highness the duke of Connaught at Supkhar near Mukki. When in Mukki, don’t miss the nature walks! Currently, there are two operational nature trails along the waters of River Banjar. If the one at Bamhni, is known to be frequented even by tigers, the other leading to village Lagma next to MPT Kanha Safari lodge, further downstream is known for its aviary buzz. Early into the latter trail, playful butterflies invited us along the river, as mellifluous bird calls, greeted us with curiosity. Nearing a bend the river withered away into many small streams, with scattered pools of waters. We wanted to spend the entire day by the riverside, but for the worldly worries we retreated.