Guwahati: Death toll of animals in the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve has increased to 208 with water level receding and more carcasses being recovered. Even as the flood situation has started to improve, officials said around 30% of the park area is still under water.
According to the flood report of the Forest Officer, Eastern Assam Wildlife Division, 175 animals, including 17 rhinos, have drowned in the floods between July 13 and 25. Another 17 animals, hog deer and sambar among them, were killed by speeding vehicles plying along the National Highway 37.
Herds of elephants and wild buffalos that had taken shelter in the higher reaches of Karbi Hills have started returning to the grasslands.
“Speed restrictions remain imposed along the entire Jakhlabandha-Bokakhat stretch of about 50km. We are monitoring the movement of vehicles and there are penalties for over-speeding. A truck that had hit a hog deer was seized the other day. This time, we have maximum casualty among the hog deer species that has a population of about 40,000 in Kaziranga. In monsoon, they migrate to Karbi Anglong hills. There are around nine corridors that the animals use during floods. High casualty has been reported in Harmoti and Panbari corridors,” said Kaziranga National Park Director P Sivakumar.
Of the 199 anti-poaching camps in Kaziranga, 15 remain submerged. With the water level receding, an assessment is also being done of the infrastructure loss along with number of animal casualties. An age-wise assessment of casualties will also be done to ascertain its impact on population dynamics.
“Carcasses will be detected as water recedes. We have to check how much has been the impact of floods on the population dynamics. In case of breeding male and female rhinos, it will definitely affect the population growth of the species. We are having about 2,400 rhinos, as per the last census. The high water level that lasted for almost seven days would have led to more drowning cases,” said Sivakumar, adding that the authorities were not expecting such a massive flood this time.
To find a solution to the annual problem, Sivakumar is of the opinion that the natural highlands for Kaziranga should be reconnected to the greater landscape of the national park through the animal corridors.
“The natural highlands for Kaziranga National Park is Karbi Anglong. In fact, Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong is basically a single landscape. But mainly because of the National Highway and development activities that started taking place since 1974, this landscape got deviated. So, now we have to reconnect these landscapes through animal corridors. There are nince identified corridors, and the Central Land Power Committee under the Supreme Court of India has given the direction that at least 500m on both sides of the National Highway in 9 corridors should be purchased and we should convert it into a habitat for free movement of animals during monsoon.”
Having no other place to go, different species of animals have been cohabiting in the highlands of the park or had moved to the higher reaches. A total of 33 new highlands were constructed in 2016 in an area of 12,155 hectares. Last year, authorities constructed about 19km of road-cum-highlands in Kaziranga.
“Highlands do help, but usage wise, mostly the rhinos are using highlands. In case of elephants and hog deer, more than 80% had already migrated to Karbi Anglong hills,” said Sivakumar.
“This is crisis time. There are records where tigers and herbivores stayed together during monsoon. Multiple species use the same landscape and after monsoon they will occupy their own areas. During the annual floods, the succession stage is retained at the grassland level itself. If there is no flood, the grassland becomes a woodland, and the huge population of herbivores cannot sustain in such a landscape. Flood is a necessary evil in case of Kaziranga,” he added.
Reports stated that 69 animals have been rescued, so far, by forest officials with the help of locals and teams led by wildlife vets from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) and other NGOs. Three orphaned rhino calves rescued from Kohora and Bagori ranges and Biswanath division of the park are currently under treatment at the CWRC located in Borjuri village, adjacent to Panbari Reserve Forest near Kaziranga.
“This year, we have rescued 28 animals, of which we have a hog deer and three rhino calves. The calves are two-five months old and are being kept at the nursery under our treatment and care. Once they become healthy — after 3 years — we will try to release them back to the wild,” said wildlife vet and Assistant Manager at CWRC Panjit Basumatary, while appreciating the collective effort of the forest department and conservation agencies in the different rescue operations.
“It is challenging. Every animal avoids humans, but we have to treat them. The calves will be in a stabilisation period for two months. They are still not accepting milk in absence of their mother, but we are trying our best. Hopefully they will live to be healthy,” said Basumatary.
Three keepers at the Centre among 11 others are currently looking after the rhino calves during the stabilisation period.