Concerns raised over Kaziranga artificial highlands

Assam conservationists express concern over construction of artificial highlands in Kaziranga

Rhinos taking shelter in an artificial highland inside Kaziranga National Park in Assam. (Photo by Swapan Nath, Kaziranga)

At least four prominent wildlife conservationists in Assam on Sunday alerted against the Centre's directive to construct more artificial highlands inside Kaziranga National Park stating that this could destroy the already fragile ecology of the famous rhino habitat.

The warning comes two days after union environment and forest minister Prakash Javadekar asked Assam forest department to construct more artificial highlands to reduce deaths of animals including rhinos during floods almost every year. The government says highlands will provide shelter to the animals during the floods. 

But a joint statement issued by the four conservationists and wildlife biologists warned that Kaziranga will no longer remain as the habitat of rhinos, swamp deer and wild buffalo if more artificial highlands are constructed.

"As the floodplain ecosystem will change to a drier habitat, in the long run, it will not be suitable for rhinos, swamp deer or water buffalo. Construction of additional artificial highland will drastically change the hydrology of the park. This means the flow of water, especially in the flood period, will change to a great extent. This will hamper the natural cleaning mechanism of the ecosystem," they said.

The experts included Anupam Sarmah, team leader of the Brahmaputra landscape, Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak, Rathin Barman, joint director of Wildlife Trust of India and Kaushik Barua, CEO of Assam Elephant Foundation.

Instead, they said the government should work more on grassland management, restoration of the wetland and expedite the work for construction of elevated highways so that animals could take shelter on the hills of neighbouring Karbi Anglong without any disturbance during the floods.

More than 200 animals including 18 famed one-horned rhinos died during floods last year, which inundated 95% of the 443-sq km national park. Many animals were killed by speeding vehicles while they were crossing the NH-37 that pass through the national park, to avoid floods. There are 144 artificial highlands inside Kaziranga, 33 of which were sanctioned three years ago. 

"In every flood, the highlands will erode naturally. The erosion of highland will deposit extra silt in the wetlands and water channels which eventually will dry out. This will add to more damage to Kaziranga’s already fragile ecosystem. Unscientific highlands leads to alter the state of the vegetation/habitat composition. Change of vegetation is likely to compel the animals to stray out of the park boundary, especially during the drier seasons. This will bring more threat to the animals, especially to the rhinos. Because of this, human-animal conflict may also rise in the surrounding villages to a great extent," said the experts.