The Kaziranga National park is badly affected with 85% area submerged and according to Forest department report, a total of 86 animals have died in this flood season and 125 animals have been rescued. In Assam itself, so far, So far, 12,55,102 big animals, 6,52,552 small animals and 12,40,479 poultry affected as per Assam State Disaster Management Authority. As such, the risk of the animals to suffer from the flood has increased manifold.
Amid the concerns of floods, there is another paradox. The floods rejuvenate the National Park every year by depositing alluvial soil and other sediments. This is considered to be a healthy wipeout, which maintains the ecology of the park. However, since time immemorial when that happens the animals had the facility to shift to high lands. With the increased human population in the peripheries, this organic tradition now sees increasing man-animal conflicts. On this aspect, Ramesh Gogoi, Kaziranga Park DCF said, “Basically, they reach the national highway stretch for highland and that has led to few mishaps. So far, 12 deers have died this year due to that. Some animals have even entered villages and few tigers have taken refuge their”.
To facilitate the situation for the animals to migrate to the highlands, man-made constructed highlands are created. However, there have been reports of corruption as alleged by Satra Mukti Sangathan's Debabrata Saikia. "We have raised the of the need for better facilitation of highlands and traffic management, especially during the flood times. Some time back, we also raised our voice against the construction of highlands where we got to know that 3 bills were raised instead of 1". These allegations paint a difficult scenario for the animals who have no place to go with the decreasing forest cover in the peripheries but to shift to those raised spaces. As per the latest data, 15 animals have died to the car hit.
To understand the conflicting aspect of floods vs animals in the Kaziranga, Inside Northeast spoke to Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Aaranyak NGO.
Question: Animals move from low to high land during floods in Kaziranga. Due to human presence near the park, now we see conflicts of human vs animals.
Dr Bibhab Talukdar: It has been a natural phenomenon for Kaziranga to get an annual flood, sometimes low, sometimes moderate and sometimes high flood and some wild animals move to higher lands both within the NP and also in adjoining Karbi-Anglong Hills in the south. This has been a natural instinct for wild animals and they can get a sense of rising river in monsoon and slowly they move to safer sites. However, nowadays, the situation becomes more complex, as along with monsoon rainwater, Dams also release water. Monsoon rain increases gradually, but when Dam releases water in big volume, the water level increases in Kaziranga and other such areas suddenly, giving less time to wild animals to speculate.
Question: It is said that floods are helpful to maintain forest ecology, but where will the animals go now as the forested lands are getting lesser?
Dr Bibhab Talukdar: Annual natural flood is the backbone of flood plan ecosystems like Kaziranga. It energises the ecosystems of Kaziranga and that’s how wild animals are surviving in Kaziranga for decades and despite flood population of wild animals including rhino numbers are increasing. Flood allows the strong animals to survive and weak animals perish which is very much in tune with Darwin’s Natural Selection Theory of Survival of the Fittest. Now as forests and other open lands adjacent to Kaziranga NP has declined, and traffic movement in NH passing along the southern part of Kaziranga has increased many folds, human activities also increased in the surrounding areas, wild animals do have a challenging time to find a safer place in the southern part of Kaziranga. This is time, we as human being need to proactive come forward and offer the needed support these wild animals are looking for during flood time and that’s too for few days only. As such for the long term future of Kaziranga and its animals, conservation of remaining forests in the southern part of Kaziranga is important. We must remember, the future of Kaziranga NP depends a lot on Karbi Hills and its vegetation cover.
Thus, the issue is not whether floods are useful or not. In the modern day setting, floodwaters are not limited to monsoons but an uneven flow of dams discharge fostered by increasing volatile Brahmaputra who banks are now getting encroached by human settlements. On the other hand, the animals of Kaziranga have lost their traditional high land place to human settlements which has also created problems. Overall, a hollistic policy involving all the stakeholders is key.
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