Keoladeo Ghana National Park or Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary as it is more commonly known as, is a wonder of the natural world as the Taj Mahal is to the human world. Over 350 species of birds can be seen in this 29 sq km park, with a third of them being migrants, many of whom have made this park their wintering ground. As the park lies on the Central Asian Flyway of the Asia Pacific Global Migratory Flyway, it is a staging / wintering ground for a huge number of migratory waterfowl that breed in the Palearctic region. The Park has one of the world’s most spectacular heronries, which harbor a large number of resident and migratory birds. According to Sir Peter Scott, founder of the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, this is the world’s best bird area. Roger Tony Peterson in a foreword to one of the most important books on herons,” The Heron Handbook” by James Hancock and James Kushlan wrote, ” Perhaps the most impressive spectacle of all is the great assemblage at Bharatpur Bord Sanctuary, near Agra, India, where half a dozen species of herons and egrets nest in association with painted storks, spoonbills, ibises and cormorantsâ€¦.”
Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) is a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention, and also a World Heritage site. It has been the only wintering ground for the central population of the endangered Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus ). The park is unique in being bound by a stone-masonry wall and agricultural fields and villages in immediate surroundings, thus lacking a buffer zone. Located in Rajasthan in Northern India, Bharatpur bird sanctuary is a unique reserve for avifauna and Indian Wildlife. The name ‘Keoladeo’ is derived from the name of an ancient Hindu temple devoted to Lord Shiva located in the sanctuary’s central zone. Old records show that the area supported thick forest which in local parlance is called ‘Ghana’. Hence the name Keoladeo Ghana National Park.
Keoladeo Ghana lies in a natural depression and is perhaps the only national park in India where the habitat has been created by a Maharajah, as compared to many of the other national parks of India, which were earlier the natural hunting preserves of the local kings. The wetlands now protected are not the result of erosion, plate tectonics, or drainage patterns, but rather the product of dams and dykes constructed by the Maharajah of Bharatpur in the 1890s. The park is an artificially created and maintained wetland site with water fed into the marshes twice a year from inundations of the Gambira river, which are collected in an artificial dam called Ajan Bund and then released through sluices, canals and dykes, thus creating a uique reseve for Indian wildlife providing such as resident and migratoy birds. The first inundation is made in mid-July, soon after the onset of the monsoon. The second takes place in late September / October when Anjan Bund is drained so that crops can be cultivated on its arable land in winter. During the monsoon period (July – September) the area is flooded to an average depth of 1-2 m. From October to January the water level gradually falls, and from February onwards the land begins to dry out. By June very little water remains.
As the water levels recede, new land features with new food sources surface, attracting different birds. This slow transition is one of the factors for the diversity of birds being so high, making it a unique resource of Indian Wildlife. There are not many wetlands left in northern India, because wetlands in the past have been perceived by local populations as dangerous places as they were the breeding grounds of malarial mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and dangerous animals like elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers. Also, wetlands are prone to catastrophes like flooding which made life difficult for the local population. As wetlands make very productive agricultural land if they are drained, a lot of wetlands surrounding the Ganges and its many tributaries were brought under western style development, which lead to their being drained for cultivation purposes. The conversion of wetlands to agricultural land accelerated after India gained its independence and embarked upon a national push for agricultural self-sufficiency. The millions of people who live in north India are fed by the crops, which are grown on these former wetlands. This dwindling of wetlands led to Bharatpur becoming an increasingly protected and stable habitat for waterfowl.
The result has been higher concentration of birds at Bharatpur, which in turn has been attracting increasing numbers of ornithologists, who arrive here in the hibernal season. Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) besides the wetland, contains various other habitats from woodland, scrub and pasture to denuded saline patches. Wetlands comprise half the area, while the others occupy the rest. The wetland is a part of the Indogangetic Great Plains, and for most of the year the effective area is only 10 sq kms. The rest of the area remains dry. The soil is predominantly alluvial, with some of it clay due to the regular inundations. The unique ecosystem of Keoladeo Ghana makes its preservation an essential aspect of the preservation of Indian Wildlife. Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is an important groundwater recharge site, and helps in maintaining the water table and soil moisture. This helps the farmers whose agricultural land surrounds the park. As it is a natural depression, in the years when there is excessive rainfall the wetlands act as a reservoir for holding floodwaters and thereby saving Bharatpur town and the surrounding areas from inundation.