If there is one thing am proud of Kanha National Park, it is about their conservation work done on preserving Barasingha. Barasingha is the colloquial and the Indian way of calling The Swamp Deer. The story of increasing the number of the swamp deer in Kahna National Park is easily India's one of the best conservation success project that you will hear of. This was my second visit to the park and I was keeping my fingers crossed to spot them. The last time I was at Kanha, these elusive ones just hid among the tall grass and I could just see their tiny heads popping out occasionally. And they were super far away. It was definitely not enough for me. Breaking all the suspense, I did get to see the lovely barasingha and I want to share the joy with you. Let us drive through Kanha National Park.
I was on a week-long tour through wildlife parks of Central India. Pench National Park and Satpura National Park were done. Of both, I was able to see tiger only in Pench National Park and the whole world was so sure of sighting tiger at Kanha National Park. It is huge, has more density of tigers and I had four safari tickets. Like four!! So I was hopeful too. But the last minute booking and the shortage of seats made me book all the safari tickets around Khatia gate and one in Mukki gate. The sightings statistics for both the gates reported good and I was hopeful about it. Even otherwise the landscape of Kanha is so beautiful that I was looking forward to it. The tall towering Sal trees with their fluorescent coloured leaves make a dramatic scenery all around the forests.
The morning chillness was still in the air. It was pleasantly surprising for a summer morning. As we entered the park a herd of spotted deer was grazing along the plains. A big huge herd. And a jackal pack was eyeing around it. Looked like the jackals were in two moods. One half of them were playing around and the other half were circling up the deer. But the deer did not seem to consider the jackals as a threat and they continued to graze peacefully. And also jackals are mostly scavengers, they eat the remains of the kill made by other predators. Maybe the deer knew it and hence did not find the jackals as a threat. The drive was to Mukki gate and the park seemed to be pretty much full of action. There were pug marks everywhere. It was as though the tiger got to know that we were right behind and hence decided to walk off and hide.
Fresh pugmarks were all over the place at different sites. It was quite disappointing to follow pug marks leading to diversion in the road and scratching our head wondering which way to go. Whatever we bid for did not work. We reached a lake and decided to stay put as a tigress with cub was spotted a few days back. That was pretty much the idea of every other jeep. A scared barking deer came down for a drink. The Muntjac or the barking deer is probably the most cautious animal I have seen. It is always on guard, looking around and runs away on hearing even the slightest sound. This was a male barking deer and this was the first time I was seeing one with horns. It would have given a thought for about a thousand times before taking a sip of water. Quite an interesting sighting.
My mind was now set on the Barasingha. Two safaris down and the barasingha still remained elusive. Barasingha literally translates to "the twelve tined one." That is because their antlers are spectacular to watch. The antlers branch out and an adult male can have somewhere between 12 to 15 tines in its antlers. The branches make it heavy but also the prettiest. If you notice a chital aka spotted deer they have about three tines and not more. But this one has twelve and that is the beauty of it. Central India was once the ground for these hard ground swamp deer. But then somewhere in the 1970s the number fell drastically down to double digits, making barasingha an endangered species, which drew attention from all around India. What if the barasingha becomes extinct! Around the same time conservation of tigers also started and this facilitated suitable grounds for the barasingha to thrive. We stopped by a grassland and there they were. A herd of female swamp deer busy chomping away the tall grass. An Indian Gaur herd was approaching them and the swamp deer moved on the other side. That golden coat of theirs gleaming in the sunset rays. A sight to behold!
The thing about hard ground swamp deer is that they cannot thrive in the forest. They need grasslands, preferably wet grasslands. The fact that they need a specific type of geographic conditions and food to thrive led to a decrease in their number. Those were also the days when trophy hunting was a thing and poaching was around. Human was converting all their grasslands into farms suitable for him, leaving no space for the swamp deer to survive. With the conservation efforts the land has been cleared for grasslands, the villages have been evacuated out of the sanctuaries, setting the farms on fire has been reduced and the deer were also kept under enclosed observation.
Boma was set up within the Kanha National Park to revive the numbers of barasingha. Boma is an enclosure built especially for the animals so they are observed, they get used to the surroundings, they thrive in it. Once they are comfortable to the new grasslands, healthy and can live on their own they are released into the open grasslands. This also prevents the predators from attacking them. In the boma conservation area, the Barasingha numbers increased with healthy newborns. They give birth to one deer. Now the numbers are almost about 400 odd and above. Some of them have even been moved to other sanctuaries to see how well they can thrive in new habitats and give them a bigger place to live.
The last day morning was again through the Khatia gate. This was my fourth drive through the Kanha National Park. The last drive in the park, am usually relaxed because by now I know what to expect and how well my luck has been treating me in the place. So I settle down in the jeep, looking up at clouds, listening to warning calls, drawing pug marks in my hand, counting the crocodile trees passing by, watching out for colorful birds and trying to get my hands on mahua fruits. We came around the plains again and amidst the glimmering shiny tall grass popped out the antlers of the barasingha. Their shiny coat blended so well with the grassland, as though the grass was having tree branches attached to it.
And just next to them was another similar herd too, settled down in the grass. Maybe they are done with their breakfast and wanted to nap again. These were male herd of swamp deer. I was falling in love with these handsome stags. Their antlers were a sight to see. And that shiny coat. I wanted to get down, brush it, feel it and hug it. And those big wide eyes when they looked at me. Jeesh, my heart did melt. We stood there for a while watching the barasingha until they got tired of seeing us and they decided to move away.
Cool Facts about Barasingha
- Barasingha is the state animal of Madhya Pradesh
- Kanha national park is the first park to announce a mascot representing the park and what better they could have chosen other than our swamp deer? :) So the mascot is called
Bhoorsinghthe Barasinga. Apparently, Bhoorsingh means golden antlers.
- Kanha National park is the only place where you can spot these endangered hard ground swamp deer in Central India. They can also be seen in preserved conservation centres along the Gangetic. Like at the Kaziranga National Park
Barsinghaprefer to eat tall grass and water plants from swamp lands.
- Barasingha usually lives in a same-sex herd. Even if you get to see a mixed herd, it would usually be a young male growing and sticking along with mom.
- A single male usually mates with multiple females. The female gives birth to a single baby
- Males are called bucks and stags. Females are called does and fawns.
In a similar conservation effort, blackbucks are being introduced into Kanha National Park. I got to see black buck roaming around the park too. I was super surprised because blackbuck was not there the last time when I was in the park. And even now it was roaming in solitary next to spotted deer.
Hope their tribe flourishes and Kanha National Park be filled with the elegant handsome Barasingha and thug like Blackbuck. :)
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How To Reach Kanha National Park
Jabalpur is the closest airport to Kanha National Park. From there you can hire a cab. Drive down to Mandla and from there follow the road to Khatia gate or Mukki gate depending upon where you have booked your accommodation. Flights flying to Jabalpur usually have a costly airfare, so you can fly to Nagpur airport instead. And from there it is about 5 hours or so by road. There is no direct bus to Kanha, go to Seoni and figure out from there. If you are coming from Bhopal, get on an overnight train to Jabalpur. From Jabalpur, the bus leaves to Mandla at 7 am and from Mandla the connecting bus leaves at 11:30 am. By 1:45 pm you will be at Kanha. Two years back there was a direct bus to Kanha leaving at 7 am and I thought that’s how it is, but I couldn’t find it when I went to Jabalpur bus stand and was told the direct bus is only at 9 am. These are the available options.
How to Book Safari - Kanha National Park
Booking wildlife safari with Madhya Pradesh National Parks is a very easy process. Look for free slots and book it online by visiting Madhya Pradesh Forest Department Website. Lookup for Kanha National Park under the Tiger reserves. Note that you are only paying for the safari ticket, the safari and jeep costs are different which comes to roughly about Rs.5000/- or more. A jeep can be shared by six people. Also if you are a solo traveler, you can book a single seat in the jeep for you and will be shared with other random travelers. Kanha safari tickets sell off like hot cakes and need to be booked well in advance. You can also book tickets at the gate but it is pretty tough and availability also will not be guaranteed.
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