KAZIRANGA: On a swampy island within the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, one can see rhinos, elephants and deer rubbing shoulders – this island is the tip of a hillock. The higher grounds of Burapahar range of the park are under water and extend into the mighty ocean-like Brahmaputra river.
The deluge in the Brahmaputra this year has submerged the park’s vast swathes of even higher grounds, forcing animals to be stranded on small islands with little food. In fact, a frustrated rhino on Wednesday charged at an approaching forest department boat though too far to be touched by the terrestrial giant.
The flood water is taking long to recede resulting in the deaths of four rhinos and some 30 other animals so far. Some of them, like a fawn of a spotted deer found by TNIE, died after coming under the wheels of a moving vehicle on NH-37 that runs through the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Usually, the world famous Kaziranga needs floods to retain its grasslands character, but this year the spate in the Brahmaputra has caused losses to outweigh the gains. “Kaziranga is a grassland and hence, it needs floods otherwise the grassland would turn into a woodland and there could be an alteration in the species mix. But this year it is bad, submerging the all-important wetlands and islands created for the animals during floods,” said park director, P Sivakumar, who is a naturalist by birth as he hails from the Madumalai Hills in Tamil Nadu. “We are handling it. It is a teamwork,” he added.
At Burahapahar, Sivakumar is assisted by another rustic naturalist, a second-generation forest man Pradip Dev Goswami. Range forest officer Goswami said that the annual flood is good for the park as it helps plants and grasses to grow but the floods have been too aggressive this year.
“Kaziranga has over 50,000 herbivores and they need the plants and grasses for survival. Secondly, the flood also helps clean up the year-long piled up mess within the park, but not like this,” Goswami told TNIE.
The Brahmaputra flows close by and its water has submerged nearly 90 per cent of the park. When the water started rising a week ago, the predators were the first to flee to nearby hills in Karbi Anglong district. Elephants and deer also moved to the hills along with a few rhinos. Others were stranded on some highlands within the park or on islands that are now swamps.
Park authorities said their challenge now would be to thwart attempts of rhino poaching. “We want the water to recede slowly so we can gauge where the rhinos are stuck and then take measures to protect them. If the water recedes quickly, it will make our task more challenging,” Goswami said.
Sivakumar said they were working in tandem with the administration of Nagaon, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. The adjacent Karbi Anglong district has sent a Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) to camp at Kaziranga. Across the Brahmaputra, the Biswanath district administration is also coordinating with park authorities.
“There hasn’t been a single incident of poaching ever since the flood but poachers are constantly trying to do so. We are ready to stop any such attempt and we have fanned out our guards and animals that strayed out of the park and are taking shelter in Karbi Anglong. They are under the constant watch of the personnel,” Sivakumar said, before going to the Bagori range to check out the status of some stranded elephants.