Assam is grappling with the worst flood in its recent history which has affected almost 20 million people, and the deluge has also led to a huge loss of flora and fauna in Kaziranga Natioal Park (KNP). As per latest reports, 242 animals have died in KNP from floods this year and the number is increasing every day.
The Director of KNP Satyendra Singh said, ‘As per our estimate, 185 hog deers have died in the flood (169 from drowning and 14 while crossing NH-37). Apart from that, 12 wild boars, 20 rhinos, 9 swamp deers, 4 wild buffaloes, 2 hog badgers, 2 porcupines, 6 sambars, 1 python and 1 pelican have also died. However, the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) – a joint venture of the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) and the Assam Forest department has worked round the clock and they have prevented casualties from being higher. 107 animals have been rescued by CWRC so far including 8 rhino calves. Also, 62 hog deers which were rescued have already been released.’
While the inspired efforts of the Forest department and NGOs like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) are laudable, the question arises: why is there no proper mechanism to tackle floods in KNP?
Messing with Nature
Located on the southern banks of the Brahmaputra River, KNP is one of the most flood prone areas of Assam. This area gets flooded almost every year, sometimes several times in a year, and submerging 80 to 90 per cent of the total landmass. There are several small rivers originating in Karbi Anglong which flows through Kaziranga, like the . During the monsoon, these rivers become unbelievably dangerous along with the mighty Brahmaputra.
Noted environmentalist Soumyadeep Dutta says, ‘Kaziranga is flood-prone and it will face floods every year. But nature has balanced things by providing highlands where the animals can take refuge during a flood. However, human beings have messed with the order of nature by encroaching on those highlands. They have made tea gardens, houses and resorts in the highlands which ideally should have allowed the animals to take shelter during monsoon.’
Floods can generally be attributed to a host of interrelated natural and anthropogenic factors. The natural factors include heavy monsoonal rains and devastating landslides, easy erodibility of rocks of the northern mountains, steep slopes and high seismicity, while the anthropogenic factors include large scale deforestation in the hilly catchments, practice of shifting cultivation, human intervention in the river system including encroachment in the floodplains, destructions of natural wetlands and poorly managed embankment system. The floods of Brahmaputra made a quantum leap, especially after the great 1950 earthquake. The cumulative effect of these factors has aggravated the flood situation on the floodplain of the Brahmaputra as well as the Kaziranga National Park.
Not Just Destruction
However, contrary to the belief that floods only bring destruction, they also help the ecology to thrive in Kaziranga. Wildlife Biologist Firoz Ahmed, who is working for the NGO Aaranyak explains, ‘Actually, the major role of floods lie in naturally maintaining the grasslands and wetlands of the park, upon which the entire ecosystem of the park stands. The flood waters provide the necessary energy and constitute a natural drainage system thereby paving the way for new vegetation to grow in place of the damaged and uprooted ones. The flood water also makes the soil more fertile so that it can support better and more diverse flora, which in turn helps the wild animals to increase their numbers and diversify’.
Ahmed further says that it is the ‘Survival of Fittest’ theory which gets applicable in KNP during the floods. ‘If you look at the death toll, you will find animals which are old, young or ill have mostly died. It is true that a large number of hog deers have died from the floods but if you look at their total population in KNP, this number is very small. In fact, under normal circumstances, more hog deers are killed by tigers in a week than the number wiped out by floods. Big animals like tigers and rhinos are very good swimmers and they have an in-built ability to adapt during calamities like flood.’
Ultimately, neither humans nor animals have the ability to battle nature’s fury. However, more responsible behaviour from human beings can help save the lives of some animals. In the midst of destruction and death, we can take solace from the fact that this time, no animal has been killed by poachers during floods and even villagers living near the forest have not killed any animal for food, a regular occurrence few years back. This gives us hope that maybe next time, a more concerted effort will help reduce the casualty of our prized bio-diversity in our most iconic national park.
Words- Nabarun Guha