Assam: Flood or no flood, Kaziranga's concern is equal

Assam: Flood or no flood, Kaziranga's concern is equal

Rhinos in flood-hit Kaziranga National Park. Credit: KNP

The current flood in Assam that turned serious in Kaziranga National Park since July 3 has killed 142 animals including 11 iconic one-horned rhinos so far. The death toll could further go up as 65% of the park still remained inundated on Wednesday. 

The casualty was more in 2019 and 2017 of 215 and 400 respectively, of which more than 50 were rhinos.

Deaths of such a large number of wild animals and the plight of those found struggling to survive the flood almost every year draw much attention and raise questions about the future of the 884sqkm park. The concern was equal if not more in 2018 when the park did not witness a flood. 

Because of flood or no flood, animals in the world's biggest habitat for the one-horned rhinos (2,413 as per 2018 census) suffer. "Survival of Kaziranga depends on the flood. Because the land here is sandy and flood water is a must for the growth of new grassland, recharging the water bodies, removing the weeds, population control and gene selection," said P Sivakumar, the park director.

The KNP has over 300 water bodies including the seasonal beels and they cover nearly 5.6% of the total area. 

"The system gets disturbed when there is no flood. At the same time many animals die in floodwater and being hit by vehicles while crossing the highway," he said.

The KNP- a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985 and one of the major tourist attractions mainly due to its iconic one-horned rhino population is sandwiched between the river Brahmaputra and Karbi Anglong hills. As the Monsoon rains in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh hills raise the water level and inundate the park, animals are often seen rushing to Karbi Anglong hills to avoid the floods.

Many animals are mowed down by vehicles plying on the highway that runs almost parallel to the Karbi hills. At least 19 animals, mostly hog deers and swamp deers have died in vehicle hits so far despite speed limits (40kmph) imposed on the stretch to avoid animal deaths.

So what is the way forward to check the animal casualty? The government is planning to construct more highlands (it already has 144 highlands, each between 12 to 16 feet high) for shelter of the animals during floods. But a group of prominent conservationists recently said more highlands would destroy the already fragile ecology 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.

Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak, a biodiversity conservation group and a rhino specialist told DH that instead of having more highlands, the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong animal passages should be kept undisturbed and the Kaziranga facing forest in Karbi Anglong hills should be properly managed as a good wildlife habitat. "During flood time, traffic movement needs to be proactively regulated," he said.