The Flood-Hit Land Of Kaziranga
The marooned wild animals of Kaziranga National Park have been struggling in search of highlands as 80 per cent of the park land was submerged in the first spate of floods that hit Assam last week.
The lowlands of Kaziranga remained inundated while the Brahmaputra and its tributaries continued to flow above the danger mark in several regions of Assam. Kaziranga, a UNESCO world heritage site is home to nearly 2,400 one-horned rhinoceros. The Protected Area was declared a tiger reserve in 2008 and supports a flourishing breeding population of elephants, wild buffalos and swamp deer.
Flanked by Bramhaputra river in the North, and the national highway on the South, the distressed animals in their search of highlands, often venture out in huge numbers on to the highway in order to migrate to the hills of Karbi Anglong.
As of Monday, animal casualties in Kaziranga have been reported at 81, out of which 13 were killed on the national highway (NH-37), after being hit by speeding vehicles.
“Keeping the situation in mind, the government has regulated speed limits for the highway in order to protect the migrating animals from speeding vehicles” informs Rohit Choudhary, an RTI activist who has been working alongside the Kaziranga National Park Authority. “As per the order of National Green Tribunal (NGT), Section 144 has been imposed along NH-37, according to which vehicle speeds are to be controlled at 30 km. per hour “, he explains further.
Police along with Kaziranga Park personnel have been assigned patrol duty. As per the order they have been given the authority to levy a penalty amount of Rs. 5000 on speed violators, the highest penalty amount ever recorded in the country.
“Animal deaths on the National Highway would have been fewer, had the transport department deployed interceptor vehicles. Also the Public Works Department (PWD) of the state failed to repair the speed breakers on NH-37, despite receiving orders from the NGT, which resulted in animal deaths by speeding vehicles,” says Choudhary.
Apart from the vehicles, the straying animals also face a great threat from poachers. Rhino calves often become easy targets, having been separated/washed away from their mothers. While forest guards have been conducting boat patrols to ward off poachers, a number of drones too have been hired from police administration of Golaghat district to monitor the movement of the park animals.
However, drones are of no use when it comes to checking animal deaths on the highway.Activists have condemned the Assam government for its half kept promise of building highlands within the park for better animal refuge. In 2016, the government had announced its plan to artificially build about 33 raised platforms at critical locations inside the national park. As of 2017, the platforms are still not ready leaving the wild animals in perilous conditions.
“The setting up of these artificial highlands was well underway earlier this year. The untimely arrival of monsoons, a month prior than expected brought a halt to the construction activity,” says Choudhary.
The park at present has 111 highlands which in effect, are not enough to support the large population of wild animals during floods. This lack of highlands accompanied by the deplorable condition of the existing structures, expose the animals to the threat of poachers and speeding vehicles every monsoon.
However Rohit Choudhary argues that highlands, though important, are not as crucial as the grasslands. “A balance has to be maintained between the highlands and the natural grasslands. Excessive highlands will change the dynamics of Kaziranga’s ecosystem. There is no way to stop the animals from crossing the highway. Guided by instinct, the animals will migrate to natural highlands, the Karbi hills,” says Choudhary.
Choudhary, directly involved in flood mitigation at Kaziranga takes a strong stance in favour of the Kaziranga National Park Authority. “The park personnel is doing an exceptional job of managing the park in such dire conditions. The forest guards have been working round the clock, enduring unceasing rain. Such dedicated and constant vigilance from the park authority has yielded results. Not a single incident of rhino poaching has been recorded during the monsoon this year.” states Choudhary, reporting that the water levels within the park have now receded to 25 per cent.
The floods, an annual phenomenon, wreck havoc every monsoon when the Brahmaputra overflows. Nevertheless, the flood water becomes imperative in replenishing the eco-system of Kaziranga, incidentally sustaining the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceros.