Slideshow Description: The slideshow is intended to ‘tell the story’ of the Keoladeo National Park, and features a portfolio of photos from a visit by Peter Howard in mid-October 2017. This small park (29km2) lies on the edge of the bustling town of Bharatpur and is surrounded by a brick wall. Within its boundaries lies a mosaic of semi-natural habitats including grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps and wetlands, supporting a corresponding diversity of birds and other wildlife. The slideshow illustrates the diversity of habitats within the park, and some of the prominent wildlife species. Rajasthan suffered a major drought in 2017, so the park was exceptionally dry at the time of this visit. The provision of water to sustain the wetlands, even during the monsoon rains (June to September) had failed and I was informed that the resident water birds had been unsuccessful in breeding this year, and the heronry was mostly unoccupied. Certainly the numbers and diversity of birds was much lower than I had expected and the extent of the wetland habitats was very limited. Amongst the characteristic wetland birds a few small flocks of ducks were observed along with two or three pairs of sarus cranes (India’s tallest bird), cormorants, darters, egrets, waterhens, kingfishers and a few herons. Storks and pelicans were notably absent, while species of dryland habitats, including peafowl, parakeets, bee-eaters and Scops owls were photographed. Amongst the more conspicuous mammals rhesus macaques, Nilgai (or blue bull, Asia’s largest antelope) and chital (spotted deer) are illustrated and a jackal was seen.
Visits to the park are normally completed within three or four hours and involve a 3km ride by cycle rickshaw along a central tarmac road through the ‘core’ wetland area, with stops to view birds along the way, as far as a small temple at Keoladeo, in the centre of the park. At Keoladeo a number of bird observation towers have been constructed, but the surrounding areas were dry at the time of my visit so the towers offered little benefit for waterfowl observation. Whilst the ornithological rewards of my visit were limited, I gained useful insights into the management challenges of the park – not only the acute shortage of water, but also a severe infestation of the few remaining flooded areas and channels with the invasive water hyacinth (and ongoing community efforts to remove it); extensive stands of invasive weeds in some of the dried ‘wetland’ management ‘blocks’; large numbers of cattle grazing in the park; and other unresolved ‘problems’ such as the presence of feral dogs. Most of these management challenges are illustrated in the slideshow.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2017) the conservation status of Keoladeo National Park is ‘good, with some concerns’. The IUCN report notes that ‘ Keoladeo is an artificially created and maintained wetland site and it is recognized that the existence of Keoladeo is due to human modification. The area floods in the rainy season (July-September), from October to January the water level gradually lowers and from February the land begins to dry out. By June only some water depressions remain. The site relies on the addition of water to support the numbers of waterfowl present. The State Party reports that it has taken significant steps to replenish the water regime in the property’s wetland systems by the decision to release water and by completing all water related projects, with a commitment from The Government of Rajasthan to provide water to the park to maintain the OUV of the property. These commitments are now being implemented and the park’s water requirements are being met from several different sources of water. Nevertheless there is a need for further comprehensive data to demonstrate the sustained supply of the minimum required 550 mcft p.a. of water to the property. Similarly, ecological monitoring programmes, despite indicating some growth, remain inconclusive on the overall trends for bird populations following dramatic crashes in population sizes in 2008/09, and hence there is a need to standardize ecological monitoring methodologies. Related is the uncertainty of guaranteeing ongoing environmental water flows in the face of other human pressures (e.g. the demand for water for irrigation), flows which are essential for the health of the wetland system.