Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger

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Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
  • The park has over 150 tigers, but the star attraction here is the hard ground swamp deer or Barasingha — successfully brought back from near extinction by forest officials.
  • In 1967, the Barasingha numbers had dwindled to an abysmal 67 mainly because of loss of habitat, diseases and hunting.
  • The forest is also home to leopards, Indian fox, sloth bear, wolves, wild boars, hyenas, jackals, macaques, langurs and Indian wild dogs (dhole).
Kanha National Park, one of the nine national parks in Madhya Pradesh (MP), is arguably one of the best known, and not without any reason. Spread across a total area of 1945 square kilometres, including the buffer and core zone, Kanha is the largest in MP. The National Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 and was later upgraded to a National Park in 1955.

The park has over 150 tigers, but the star attraction here is the hard ground swamp deer or Barasingha — successfully brought back from near extinction by forest officials. The Barasingha is also the state animal of Madhya Pradesh. After 50 years of hardcore conservation work, the count is now close to 800. In 1967, the numbers had dwindled to an abysmal 67 mainly because of loss of habitat, diseases and hunting.

Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
Swamp deer, Kanha www.salbankanha.com

The population of Barasinghas was successfully rekindled by the authorities by constructing a large enclosure at the heart of the jungle. In 2015, the population of Barasinghas had grown to around 600, after which the enclosure was no longer used. They are now being reintroduced to the nearby jungles of Satpura.
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Aniruddha Mookerjee, who spent over two decades in conservation with organisations like the Wildlife Trust of India, World Animal Protection and the University of Oxford, among others firmly believes, “Kanha is perhaps the best-managed tiger reserve in India and can be counted among those across the world that provide a superlative wildlife experience to the visitor. It can boast of a conservation success in the early 1960s of bringing back the hard ground Barasingha in its last refuge from the brink of extinction.”

Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
Female Cub of Dhawajandhi, Kanha www.salbankanha.com

Mookerjee adds, “While forest departments across India sent rescued tiger cubs to the zoo, Kanha was the first to successfully experiment with their rehabilitation in the wild.”

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Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
Cheetal alarmed by jackal, Kanha www.salbankanha.com

Set amidst thick sal and bamboo forest, Kanha today supports over 300 bird species and at least a thousand flowering shrubs and trees making it truly a gem among the world’s wildscapes, according to Mookerjee. The forest is also home to leopards, Indian fox, sloth bear, wolves, wild boars, hyenas, jackals, macaques, langurs and Indian wild dogs (dhole). The Indian roller, owlets, scarlet minivet, Indian pitta and black hooded oriole are some of the birds that call the forest home. The River Banjaar runs through Kanha and is the key source of water for flora and fauna here. The Park was originally inhabited by two indigenous tribes — the Gonds and the Baigas — thus, it was called the Gondwanas (“land of the Gonds''). These tribes still live in the forest.

Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
Link 7, Kanhawww.salbankanha.com

Unfortunately, four of the most legendary tigers that trawled the jungles have passed on. Munna (aka Langda), the tiger with a distinctive CAT spelt on its forehead died of old age and Link 7 (Munna’s son), Kingfisher (aka Rajaram), and Bheema too have died of natural causes.

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Safaris: Kanha can be accessed via three gates — the Khatia Gate, Mukki, and Sarhi. Of these, Khatia is the most popular and therefore the busiest. There are two primary safari timings — sunrise to 11:00 AM and 02:00 PM to sunset. However, the morning safaris usually reap the most amount of sightings. “The safari experience itself is one of the best since you get an exclusive Gypsy (a vehicle) along with a local guide and driver who have a keen sense of ownership and provide visitors with an intimate glimpse into the lives of the Park’s wild denizens. It is perhaps the only national park in India with a large number of trained women guides recruited from the nearby villages,” Sheema Mookerjee, former publisher at Lonely Planet India, who now runs ‘Salban’ homestay in Kanha, tells Business Insider.

Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
L7, Kanhawww.salbankanha.com

Best time to visit and timings: The Park remains closed from 30th June to 30th September, and winter is the best time to visit. Please note that the afternoon shift of jeep safaris remains closed for visitors every Wednesday. It is always a good idea to check the nitty-gritty with your accommodation before arrival.

Getting there: Jabalpur, Umaria, Gondia and Bilaspur are major rail junctions close to Kanha. Alternatively, you can fly down to Jabalpur (133 kilometres from Kanha) and Nagpur (261 kilometres from Kanha).
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Madhya Pradesh’s Kanha National Park hosts a special guest. And, no, it’s not the tiger
Salban — the Kanha Homestaywww.salbankanha.com

Places to Stay: Popular as it is, Kanha has plenty of accommodation options available, from MPSTDC guest houses like MPT Baghira Jungle Resort, Mocha to charming resorts like Infinity Resorts, where you can book large villas or tents. Chitvan Jungle Lodge offers a variety of suites, a pool and a spa, and a range of tours with trained naturalists. But if you want an exceptional intimate experience, the Salban — the Kanha Homestay in the village Baherakhar (7 kilometres from the Mukki gate) is an excellent option that offers four rooms — two within the main house and two independent cottages. Please note that there are hardly any options to eat outside, so most resorts and hotels include all meals in their tariff.
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