Dudhwa Nation Park and Tiger Reserve – An impressive deer sanctuary
Not far from the Himalayan foothills nestles the Dudhwa National Park and Tiger Reserve; the park has only recently come under the umbrella of Project Tiger, with the addition of the Kishanpur Sanctuary’s 200 square kilometres (78 square miles). The moist deciduous vegetation comprises virgin stretches of Sal forest which are contiguous with the terai, or lower forest tracts, of the Nepalese Himalayas.
Formerly, this region comprised a forest reserve belonging to the North Kheri division of the Lakhimpur-Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh State. The forest was declared a sanctuary in 1968 and subsequently upgraded to the status of the national park in 1977. A metre-gauge railway line runs across the park, joining the towns of Gouri Phanta in Nepal and Bareilly in India.
The park is synonymous with the name of ‘Billy’ Arian Singh, a famous Indian conservationist whose singlehanded efforts turned Dudhwa into the notable tiger reserve it is today. In 1976 he was awarded a gold medal for conservation by the World Wide Fund for Nature International.
The vast 815 square kilometres (315 square miles) of terai vegetation comprise savannah grasslands interspersed with forests consisting of tree species such as Jamun (Blackberry), Shisam, Simal Above right: Hog Deer (Axis porcinus) is an elusive species. (Silk Cotton Tree), Khair (Acacia catechu), Sirsa (Aibizza procera), Haidu (Adina cordifolia), and Opposite: A herd of Softground Barasingha (Cervus Toon (Cedrela toona).
Two major rivers, the Suheli and Neora, converge in the park, becoming the Suheli in the southern flank. The Mohana flows between the northern part of the park and the Nepal border.
Barasingha, the pride of the park
The prime mammal species of the park is the elegant Barasingha, or Swamp Deer. Yellowish-brown in colour, these deer feed on grasses and swamp vegetation, breeding in the summer. Stags carry long branched antlers. In Dudhwa the Swamp Deer is known as gond; this animal was pivotal to influencing conservationists to lay the foundations to protect the area and thus declare it a national park. In the southern part of the park, in the Sathiana and the south-east-lying Chakraha forest blocks, the marshlands of two of the park’s rivers provide a perfect habitat for this deer, which is also referred to in India as Soft ground Barasingha.
Of late their population is facing an alarming decline — poaching has been recorded in the Ghola and Gajrola areas of the park, and in 1998 their count totalled about 500. Barasingha is coveted for their meat, skins and antlers.
Rich in wildlife species
The greatest attraction of Dudhwa reserve is the majestic ‘Tiger, which occurs throughout the park and is seen regularly by visitors. As Dudhwa has no forested buffer zone along its park boundary to the south, incidents of the park’s Tiger inhabitants attacking humans were at one time common. Dudhwa is presently one of India’s best-managed parks and such incidents have riot been reported in recent times. Tiger and Leopard are the park’s major predators, and there is constant competition between the two cat species Leopard numbers, though, are far less than those of the Tiger-
Increasing rhino numbers
An attempt was made in 1985 to introduce the Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros into Dudhwa under the auspices of the rhino reintroduction programme, but they did not adapt well to their new habitat and some animals migrated to Sukla Phanta. Today, however, ‘Gainda-Darshan’, or ‘rhino viewing’ on elephant back has become a regular feature for tourists. The count of rhinos has reached 18; they occur mainly in the Kakraha block of the South Sonaripur range.
Another highly endangered animal whose numbers have reduced alarmingly is the elusive grassland dweller, the Hispid Hare. Predation and their dwindling habitat have been the main causes.
Indian Elephant, on the other hand, are not scarce, and herds of these pachyderms migrate throughout the year across the corridor between Nepal’s Sukla Phanta and Royal Bardia wildlife sanctuaries and Dudhwa National Park and Tiger Reserve.
Among the park’s carnivores are Sloth Bear (Which prey on the kills of other predators to complement their diet of white ants, Mahua fruits, blackberries and roots), Jackal, Red Fox, the Fishing, Jungle and Leopard Cat, and Honey Badger. In winter, visitors can spy on basking snub-nosed crocodiles known locally as Muggar (Marsh Crocodile) on the banks of the Suheli and Neora rivers. In terms of the herbivores, five species of deer co-exist in Dudhwa: Chital, Sambhar, Muntjac (Barking Deer), Barasingha and Hog Deer.
Dudhwa’s reptile life is abundant. Of the snake species, the Indian Rock Python, Indian Spectacled and Indian Monocled Cobra, and Common Krait — a venomous blue-black nocturnal snake with thin white bands on its body — are some of the more deadly types. Monitor Lizard, skinks and chameleons are all common in the forests. Visitors could disturb a snake at any time, and they should remain constantly vigilant for the highly poisonous krait and cobra species.
Dudhwa has 350 species of birds and enjoys the distinction of being the only region in Uttar Pradesh that contains such large numbers of bustards. Between 40 and 50 in number, they live in close proximity with the Swamp Deer in the grasslands. The Bengal Florican, a sub-Himalayan species, is perhaps the rarest bustard in the world, with a global population of 600. Also rare are the Lesser Florian, or Leekh, which flock to the parks grassland areas. In the upper grasslands, Swamp Partridge are transitional, while Black and Grey Partridge, Red Junglefowl and Peafowl are plentiful.
A great number of migratory birds converge at Banketal (‘tal’ meaning ‘lake’) in south Sonaripur and at Jhadital in Kishanpur. Among the species are White-eyed, Red-chested and Common Pochard, Pintail Duck, Comnon Teal and mallards.
Particularly special in Dudhwa are the prolific owls and raptors. Great Indian Horned, Dusky Horned, Brown Fish, Forest Eagle and Scops Owl as well has the Spotted and Barred Owlet are just some of the owl species. Notable birds of prey are Sparrow Hawk, the Pale and Hen Harrier, the Crested Serpent and Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Shikra.
Location: In the terai belt of Uttar Pradesh, close to the Nepalese Himalayas, which are about 30km (20 miles) distant.
Climate: Winter is bitingly cold and can drop to 4°C (39°F) while the summer months are quite hot (35’C; 95’F) although humidity is relatively low. The rains occur June to September.
When to go: The period between February and June is probably the best time to visit the park. April through June is very hot and dry, but good for viewing wildlife.
Getting there: The nearest small town is Palia; the nearest airport is at Lucknow. It is advisable to reach Dudhwa by hired car or bus from Lucknow railway station, which is 260km (160 miles) from the park.
Facilities: Forest rest houses and log huts in Dudhwa, located at Sathiana, Bankatti and Sonaripur, have cooking and catering facilities; provisions need to be supplied by visitors. Dudhwa has a full canteen.
Wildlife: Dudhwa is a deer haven, sustaining the largest number of Softground Barasingha (Swamp Deer) in India. Birdlife is one of the park’s major attractions. Elephant rides on offer through the park at dawn and dusk.
Landscapes: Beautiful vistas across to the Himalayan foothills. Fine stands of Sal dominate the forest, and Jamun (Blackberry) lines the river banks.
Reservations: The Field Director, Dudhwa National Park, Lakhimpur, Kheri, Uttar Pradesh; or The Chief Wildlife Warden, 17, Rana Pratap Marg, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.