Assam's killer waters that also give life - NEWS SENTRY


Thursday, 4 August 2016

Assam's killer waters that also give life

Odds are that if you were driving down NH-37, which cuts through Kaziranga National Park in Assam, last week, you would have chanced upon a rhino or a deer making for higher land in neighbouring Karbi Anglong.

The forests of Karbi Anglong district, which adjoin Kaziranga, serve as the proverbial Noah's Ark for all manner of animals every monsoon when floods turn the park into a giant pool, send forest officials scurrying for cover and give life-sustaining nourishment to its ecosystem.

Floods are a necessary evil for Kaziranga, a Unesco World Heritage Site which is home to two-thirds of the world's one-horned rhinos. Located on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra, Kaziranga needs the floods to trigger fresh growth of grasslands and recharge its 200-odd water bodies by washing away weeds.

"The entire biodiversity of Kaziranga is dependent on the annual floods. We cannot imagine sustaining the ecology without the deluge," explains Kaziranga honorary wildlife warden Uttam Saikia.

"After every devastation caused by the floods, animals spring back to life in Kaziranga. This ecological cycle is intrinsically linked to the annual deluge," Saikia added.

About 50% of the 430-sq ft park is composed of grasslands which sustain a large population of herbivores. Of the 'Big Five' that lend Kaziranga its appeal rhinos, elephants, wild buffaloes, eastern swamp deer and tigers four are herbivorous species whose very survival depends on the grasslands. These, in turn, are prey for carnivores like tigers and keep the food chain robust.

The park, however, pays a heavy price for this annual replenishment.

This year's floods, while not the worst, have been particularly trying. Scores of animals have been killed and displaced and park officials have struggled to help them because of several infrastructure handicaps. Forest guards across the park have been trying to rescue stranded animals, often leaving behind their own families in flood-hit villages and towns across the state.

Kaziranga has lost 322 animals to the floods this year so far.

A large number of animals perish while fleeing to the comparatively higher, drier grounds of Karbi Anglong. While some drown, others are hit by vehicles while crossing the national highway that passes through the park, and still more fall prey to poachers.

Not just rhinos, other animals, too, have borne the brunt of floods. Hog deer, one of the smallest species of deer, have had an especially tough time of it. At least 257 hog deer, 17 wild boars, 11 swamp deer, five wild buffaloes, six sambars, four porcupines, two hog badgers and a python have died.

"We have lost a substantial number of animals in this year's floods. It is indeed a most difficult time to provide safety to animals that have migrated to higher grounds in the nearby forests of Karbi Anglong," Kaziranga director Satyendra Singh said. As of now, 106 animals have been rescued, including six rhino calves.

In 2012, a staggering 625 animals, including 19 rhinos and 524 hog deer, had perished in Kaziranga during the monsoon.

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