KAZIRANGA: There is an irony to the floods in Assam. While they wreak devastation almost every year, there are a small number of people who wish for the annual deluge.
"We need floods in the Kaziranga,” says the director of the national wildlife park, Satyendra Singh. “We need them for the animals.” Floods bring three benefits to Kaziranga. Natural deaths of animals throughout the year cause large-scale decomposition. The flood waters clean up the mess. Second, the floods wash away unwanted weeds from the park. But most importantly, floods fertilise the land.
"The grasses that grow after a flood are a good diet for the animals,” says Satyendra Singh. “They improve the health of animals.” But he hastens to add, “However, we don't want a massive flood like the one we had recently."
Last month's floods submerged 80 per cent of the UNESCO world heritage site. Altogether 105 animals, including seven rhino calves, died. It was the fourth biggest flood in the sanctuary since 1988.
Now that the waters have receded, people who fled to relief camps on high ground have returned to their villages.
The park has 111 highlands, built after the devastating flood of 1988. But many have been eroded since then. They have to be built up again. Currently, 33 highlands are being built, 14-18 feet high. A highland is usually built on an area of 800 sq m.
The government also has plans to build three flyovers on the national highway. At present the highway cuts through the park, and is punctuated by animal corridors. Animals often become road kill.
Singh says repairing damaged bridges and culverts and improving the health of animals and forests guards who work deep in the park are among the post-flood challenges for the forest department.
Last year, there were 18 incidents of rhino poaching in the Kaziranga, 14 of them taking place before and during the floods between January and August.
In sharp contrast, there have been just two such incidents so far this year. No rhino has been killed during the floods when poachers try to take advantage.
"Poaching has been curbed due to the combined efforts of the police and the forest department," Satyendra Singh says.
Floods in Kaziranga are caused largely by the Brahmaputra to the north and rain waters from Karbi Anglong to the south.
"If you want to solve the problem of floods in Kaziranga, you have to solve the problem across the state," Singh adds.
The 430 sq km Kaziranga National Park lies in Golaghat and Nagaon districts. It hosts two-thirds of world's population of great one-horned rhinos.
According to the 2015 census, the park has a rhino population of 2,401.
It is also home to the highest density of tigers among protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. Apart from rhinos and tigers, the park has large breeding populations of elephants, wild water buffalo and swamp deer.