National Parks and Sanctuaries : Kanha National Park

India's largest National Park, Kanha is located in the heartland of Central India, about 280 km north east of the city of Nagpur.

One of India's more picturesque Parks with its forests, hills and extensive meadows teeming with wildlife, Kanha is not only famous for its Tiger sightings, but also for the highly endangered central Indian race of the Swamp Deer or Barasingha. Once down to to less than 70, their population today is between 400-500 animals.

The hill country and Sal forests supports a good population of Gaur. Other herbivores found here are Chital, Sambar and the Muntjac, which along with Wild Boar form the main prey base for Tiger. Parts of Kanha are good habitat for the Dhole or Indian Wild Dog. Leopard, Sloth Bear, Wolf, Chowsingha and Hyena also occur here, but are hard to see.

The birdlist for Kanha is not very extensive, but birdwatching here is nonetheless a rewarding experience. Of the species to be seen in the Park are the Crested Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Large Raquet-tailed Drongo, Paradise Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, several species of cuckoos, nightjars and owls. The grasslands are the habitat for birds like the Zitting Cisiticola, Jungle Prinias and Painted Partridge along with seed-eaters such as the various species of munia.

The Park is closed during the monsoon from July through to November. November to March is a pleasant time to visit.


Located in the picturesque heart of central India, Kanha was declared a sanctuary as early as 1933 although with a much smaller area than at present. In 1935 this status was extended to Supkhar in the east. However, this was a period when forests were a colonial resource and damage caused to Sal and other saplings by the deer lead to a prompt reversal of the sanctuary status. Hunting blocks were once again let out and it was only in 1955 that concern over depleting populations of Tiger and other wildlife lead to the creation of the national park.

Between 1963 and 1965 George Schaller the eminent American scientist conducted the first scientific study of tiger ecology and published his findings in an influential book called the Deer and the Tiger. In 1969 the Kanha management adopted the core-buffer zone concept in accordance with which the villages located within the designated core area namely Sonf, Bishanpura and Gorhela were relocated.

In 1973 Kanha was included amongst the original 9 reserves of Project Tiger and in the intervening years has come to be viewed as one of Asia's finest nature reserves. Indeed some writers have likened the Kanha meadows to Ngorongoro with the ridges of the Maikal Hills surrounding a verdant valley floor teeming with wildlife. Kanha is today the last place where the highly endangered central Indian race of the Swamp Deer or Barasingha can be found and this fact alone, even without its 100 tigers would ensure for Kanha an eminent place in the list of Indian reserves.

The origins of the name Kanha are variously described as deriving from kanhar the local word for the rich clayey soil of the area or from Kanva a holy man who lived in a local village. Little is known about Kanha before 1862 although Shah Jehan, the future Mughal Emperor resided for a short period at nearby Balaghat as the local governor.

The indigenous inhabitants of the region are Gond and Baiga. Similar in appearance the two peoples adopted distinct life-styles with the Gond living mainly off 'bewar' or slash and burn agriculture supplemented by hunting and gathering while the Baiga, disdaining agriculture remained primarily hunter-gatherers. Consummate hunters and jungle men, it is unsurprising that many of the Baiga legends recount the special bond between them and the tiger. The reverence that the Baiga and to some extent the Gonds accord the tiger is given physical expression in the "tiger" idols that can be seen under village peepal trees.

In 1862 the colonial administration strengthened its grip on these remote highlands eyeing their forest wealth covetously. Felling of various tree species with official permission was banned and the alienation of the locals from their environment had begun its long and destructive course. In 1865 the western block of the present reserve was created the Banjar Valley Reserve Forest and in 1923 A.A. Dunbar Brander, a British Forest officer and expert naturalist published his path-breaking book "Wild Animals in Central India".

The brightest star of Central Indian reserves, Kanha has long maintained a proud tradition of research, management, protection and first-class educational and interpretation centres and with its excellent infrastructure is easily one of the best places for the tourist, in search of wild India, to visit.


Location: Kanha Tiger Reserve is located 280 kms. north-east of the city of Nagpur considered to lie at the geographic centre of the country. The other major city is Jabalpur 160 kms. to the North-west of the Reserve.

The reserve is situated in the picturesque Maikal Hills of the eastern Satpura Range. The ridges of the Maikal Hills run in a generally east-west direction and are punctuated by extensive valley floors. These,usually centered on some marshy depression have been cleared of forest cover by centuries of human occupation and today form the meadows that are such a characteristic feature of Kanha as well as a vital part of the eco-system. Many of the marshy depressions have been deepened and embanked either by the earlier occupants or the Reserve management to form perennial water tanks. The ridges are topped by plateaus, called dadars the largest of which is Bamhni Dadar. The two rivers, the Banjar to the west and the Halon to the east define the park boundaries. Both these rivers flow into the Narmada, the major river of central India. Mandla, the district town where the reserve headquarters is located is situated on the banks of the Narmada.

Latitude: 22°7' to 22°27' N
Longitude: 80°26' to 81°3' E

Area: The fully gazetted area of the National Park consists of 940 sq. kms. This is surrounded by a buffer zone of 1005 sq. kms. which forms part of the Kanha Tiger Reserve but supports 150 villages within it. The reserve straddles two districts: Balaghat and Mandla with a small corner of the southeastern part of the buffer zone intruding into Rajnandgaon district.

Altitude: The altitude of the park ranges from about 600 m (1900 ft.) at Kanha Village to 870 m (2900 ft.) at Bamhni Dadar

Climate: North Indian Monsoonal: Temperature Range: Minimum: -2°C(28°F) in January Maximum: 42°C(107.6°F) in May

Rainfall: 1600 mm

Abundant rainfall and fertile soils have endowed Kanha with a species rich and luxuriant vegetation. The dominant species of tree is Sal (Shorea robusta) which here attains great height and magnificent proportions especially in the low-lying areas on the periphery of meadows. Bamboo of the species (Dendrocalamus strictus) is the other common species. The main habitats of Kanha have been divided into: Sal, Sal/Bamboo, Mixed, Mixed bamboo, Mixed upper plateaus areas, Valley grassland and Dadar grassland.

Species such as Terminalia tomentosa, Laegostroemia parvifolia, Jamun (Syzigium cuminii), Mahua (Madhuca indica), Bahera (Terminalia bellarica) and several species of ficus are found in the moist lower areas. Drier areas have Anogeissus latifolia, species of Bauhinia, Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Salai (Boswellia serrata), Pallas (Butea monosperma) and Kulu (Sterculia urens). Moister areas support species like Sendur (Mallotus phillipinnensis), Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), etc.

Two types of grasslands are recognised in Kanha. The more extensive are the meadows of the valley floors which are themselves divided into the high grasslands of the marshy hollows and smaller grasses of the higher ground. The latter occupy areas that were once village fields and which today require management intervention to perpetuate them against the threat of colonisation by trees species. These valley meadows are made up of species like Saccharum spontaneum, Eragrostris uniloides, Ischaemum indicum, Dimeria Ornithopoda and Imperata cylindrica.

The other grassland is that found in the drier uplands of the dadars (plateaus). Common species here are Themeda triandra, Hetropogon contortus and Themeda quadrivalvis although these species are not exclusive and several species will be found in both habitats.


As one of India's pre-eminent Tiger reserves the focus of attention in Kanha is the Tiger and it is a measure of the health and richness of this habitat that the core area of the reserve supports almost a 100 Tigers (Panthera tigris). This translates to an overall density of about 10 tigers per 100 sq. kms. which is a very healthy density by any standards given the fact that a significant percentage of the Park is hilly and therefore not as hospitable for Tigers as the low-lying mosaic of forest and meadow.

Apart from the Tiger, the Leopard (Panthera pardus) is also found in surprisingly large numbers especially around the peripheries of the Park and the buffer area which is also the best area for animals such as the Hyena (Hyena hyena) and Wolf (Canis lupus).

The other major predator is the Indian Wild Dog or Dhole (Cuon Alpinus) which in Kanha is found in fairly large packs that are quite visible especially in the Kanha and Mukki meadows. Smaller predators such as the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) and Jackal (Canis aureus) are also common and H.S. Panwar, the first Field Director of the Reserve has also recorded the presence of the Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis)

Apart from the Tiger, Kanha is known as the last refuge for the once wide-spread central Indian race of the Swamp Deer or Barasingha, first recognised by A.A. Dunbar Brander and named Cervus duvauceli branderi in his honour. In the early 1970's the population of this animal had fallen to less than 70 but has now recovered to between 400-500 animals.

At one time Kanha meadow was also famous for the number of Blackbuck antelope (Antelope cervicapra) an endemic Indian species and the only true Indian antelope. Sadly, habitat changes and predation pressures have driven this animal to virtual extinction within the Park.

Other species include Chital (Cervus axis), Sambar (Cervus unicolor) and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), which form the major prey base for the Tiger along with the Indian Bison or Gaur (Bos gaurus) the largest of the world's wild cattle. Gaur are essentially animals of moist hill forests and found in large numbers in Kanha. Barking deer or Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), Grey or Common Langur (Semnopithecus entellus), Rhesus Macaque (Maccaca mulatta) are also common. Other species like the Chowsingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), Ratel or Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) and Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) are all rarely seen.


© Kumar K.Swamy
The latest checklist of the birds of Kanha, compiled by Eric D'Cunha lists 235 species, which by the standards of Indian Parks is not a very large number. The best time to watch birds in Kanha is in the mornings at the edge of forests and along streams and where fruiting trees, especially species of figs are present. The closed and dense environment of the forest and bamboo thickets makes bird-watching difficult here.

However, an exception is on the Nakti Ghati road, which, particularly in the winter, is a good place for mixed feeding flocks with several species found in the company of birds like the Browncheeked Fulvetta (Quaker Babbler).

Common raptors are Crested Hawk-eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra and the vultures which include the White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis) which is the most common and the Long-billed Vulture (Gyps indicus). The King or Black Vulture, although rare in nature is found in reasonable numbers here as is the smallest of the lot, the Scavenger Vulture. However, the epidemic decimating vulture populations across the country seems now to have effected the two large Gyps species in Kanha as well. The two most exciting raptors here are the Pied Harrier which is seen sporadically through the winter months in the meadows and the Rufous-bellied Hawk-eagle, which, although unmentioned in any lists has been reliably reported over grasslands on several occasions during winter months.

The most prominent woodland species in Kanha is undoubtedly the Large Raquet-tailed Drongo which flashes through the forest trailing its flashy trail and enlivening the forest with its vast repertoire of liquid calls much of which is shameless but tuneful mimicry. These birds are often seen in association with groups of Jungle Babblers and Lesser Golden-backed Woodpeckers (Black-rumped Flamebacks). During the summer the jungles are lit by the arrival of the spectacular Paradise Flycatchers which arrive to nest here along with Golden Orioles that remain until mid-November before heading back south for the winter.

Several species of cuckoos, nightjars and owls are also found here. The grasslands are the habitat for birds like the Zitting Cisiticola , Jungle Prinias and Painted Partridge along with seed-eaters such as the various species of munia.

Reptiles and Amphibians
A comprehensive list of reptiles and amphibians is not available. However snakes such as the Rock Python (Python molurus), Cobra (Naja naja), Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus), Common Wolf snake (Lycodon aulicus), Rat snake (Ptyas mucosus), etc are found here. Other reptiles include Common Indian monitor (Varanus bengalensis), Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor), Fan-throated lizard (Sitana ponticeriana), Flying Lizard (Draco dussumieri), and Chameleon (Chamaeleon zeylanica) have been reported.
Entry Formalities
As of now petrol vehicles and new diesel vehicles (max. 5 years old) with 4-wheel drive are permitted in the park. However, both at Mukki and Khatia a number of open-top petrol Gypsys are available for hire. Kanha has a fairly long-drawn out procedure for entry and fees have been steeply increased. Kanha is famous for the practice of tracking and viewing tigers from elephant back, a practice that greatly enhances one's chances of seeing these very elusive cats. However, elephants are expensive creatures to maintain and the fee has recently been steeply hiked to Rs. 300/- for foreigner nationals and Rs.50 for Indians.

Best time to visit
The Park is closed during the monsoon from July through to November. November to March is a pleasant time to visit. It starts to get very hot from mid March till the onset of the rains in June, though these are also good months for wildlife viewing.

How to get there
Kanha has two entrances - Khatia/Kisli at the western end of the park and Mukki at the southeastern end. Both are accessible from Nagpur which is 270 and 290 kms away respectively. Nagpur is connected by air to Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Chennai. Jabalpur is 180 kms. from Khatia and about 200 kms. from Mukki. Apart from being well-connected by rail, Jabalpur also now has a twice-weekly air service to Delhi. Bilaspur also about 180 kms. to the east and Balaghat about 80 kms. away are both connected by rail to Mumbai and Calcutta. All rail-and air-heads have taxis available and bus-services to Mukki and Khatia although buses here are crowded and slow to say the least.

The Khatia end of the park is particularly well-endowed with places to stay suitable for all budgets. Krishna Jungle Resort, Wild Chalet, Kipling Camp and Tuli International are full service jungle lodges. Less expensive accommodation is available at the government run Baghira Log Huts at the Kisli gate and assorted hotels outside Khatia. Mukki has the Kanha Jungle Lodge and the luxurious Royal Tiger Resort.


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