The first sighting and camera trap of the melanistic common leopard (Panthera pardus), popularly called black panther, at Kaziranga Tiger Reserve by World Wildlife Federation has excited the scientific community as such species were believed to be found only in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.
The black panther, which was believed to be sighted only in Anshi-Dandeli wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka, has now been sighted even in Assam’s forests where a camera trap by WWF on December 27, 2011 established the existence of this animal in the forests of the North East for the first time. In addition, a Royal Bengal tiger has been camera trapped there.
WWF’s Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Conservation Programme (KKL) has been, since 2005, working to document the above corridors by initiating conservation activities involving communities around them.
The Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, with its additions to the National Park area over the years, is 1,033 sq-km large and is spread over the districts of Nagaon, Sonitpur, Karbi Anglong and Golaghat. Being a mosaic of grasslands, woodlands and water bodies makes it an ideal habitat for many threatened mammals and birds, including the great Indian one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), wild buffalo (Bubalis bubalis), Asian elephant (Elephas maximux) and eastern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi).
The mighty River Brahmaputra flows across the northern boundary of Kaziranga, flooding the park during monsoon. In the process, it enriches the soils and washes out the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) from many wetlands. This helps rejuvenate the eco-system. However, the floods also lead to migration of Kaziranga’s wild mammals to the adjoining hills of Karbi Anglong located to its south.
The migrating animals use specific forested strips or ‘corridors’ to cross over to higher grounds across the National Highway 37.
There are four such corridors currently intact - Panbari, Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Amguri, which are vital links between the flooded park and the higher grounds in Karbi Anglong.
WWF, which initiated the conservation programme, deployed camera trap in June 2010 to get photographic evidence of animal movement. By the end of 2011, a range of animals were observed to be using the corridor, with elephants being the most captured. Other captured animals include wild boar, barking deer, jungle fowl and common leopard.
“This is the first time ever this mammal (black panther) has been recorded in the checklist of mammals of Kaziranga and the first for Karbi Anglong district too,” said a source from WWF.
These records indicate the active use of the corridor. There are several myths prevailing regarding the black leopards and some scientists believe them to be a separate species.