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India: Assam deluge claims 595 lives of wild animals in Kaziranga

Jul 12, 2012

Floods are critical for the survival of bio-diverse Kaziranga’s unique ecosystem. Equally, they are a killer. A recent report recommends a road map for resolving this world heritage site’s existential paradox.

The stats may not be scary—just yet. But every year across the fauna-rich grasslands of the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in Assam, dozens of boar, deer and even elephants drown to death in floods. According to a review by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the deluge this year claimed 595 lives, mostly hog deer and wild boar, in the reserve with a population of more than 40,000 wild animals. In addition, three rhinos fell to poachers.

Meanwhile, the Indian Red Cross Society of Assam has written a letter to Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for declaring flood and erosion in Assam as a national disaster. This declaration, says IRC will help it in making an appeal for help for the flood affected victims to the international aid agencies.

Located along the Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary and bound by the Brahmaputra, the 1033 sqkm Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, also known as a biodiversity hotspot, teems with a staggering variety of wildlife—100 tigers, 1800 wild buffalos, 2000 one-horned rhinos and countless other species of birds and animals. In 1985 the Kaziranga National Park, described by the National Geographic as a thundering conservation success story, was declared a world heritage site.

It is because of its extraordinary importance as a wildlife habitat that the stats of deaths caused by flooding and stray incidents of poaching are worrying enough. The floods are an existential paradox for life in Kaziranga: they are crucial for the survival of its unique ecosystem made up of a large number of water bodies (around 175) and its biodiversity; but they are also a killer of its larger beasts.

This year as many as 512 hog deer succumbed according to a report prepared by Dr M Firoz Ahmad, Member, NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) who was asked to conduct a survey of the region in the wake of the recent floods.  In his report, Dr Ahmad stresses on the importance of relieving the corridor areas from human pressure and preventing any change in the land use pattern. 

To protect the animals the park’s managers have built barriers along the highway, brought the entire region under 24 X 7 surveillance and deployed staff to patrol its dense interiors. Most significantly, many chapories, or elevated regions have been built to provide retreats and shelters for the animals during the floods. Still, the deaths continue apace with the conservation efforts funded by the centrally sponsored Project Tiger.

Over the last financial year, Rs. 4.27 crores in central assistance was advanced to Kaziranga for the creation of patrolling camps and other protection measures.  An alternate alignment has been suggested for diverting/widening the NH-37.  However, as the highway is in use, the NHAI is being approached to build flyovers at the most vulnerable points for the traffic. Alongside, a request to declare the Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary as a Tiger Reserve is set to be revived with the state government as this would allow Project Tiger funds to be used for wildlife protection over a wider area.

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