KNP mulls on a holistic approach beyond highlands to protect its animals during annual flooding

-Kusumita Bhattacharjee

As Kaziranga National Park is reeling out of yet another devastating flood this monsoon, its management mulls on a solution for the way forward.

While the Centre had recently approved Rs 12 crore for the Assam forest department’s Highland Management Project in Kaziranga and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, the two worst flood-affected forestlands in the state, the KNP management, however, feels it needs a more comprehensive approach than just highlands.

Under the project, a stretch of 32-km road at Kaziranga would be converted into a highland.

According to sources, the National Park is vouching for highlands but by providing priority to the movement of floodwaters and clearing out of the animal corridors.

“Highlands are not a permanent solution but a species-specific approach to the problem as the bigger mammals, rhinos and wild buffaloes want to be in the park during the monsoon season. But, we should concentrate more on clearing out the animal corridors to help other animals to escape, or else, the casualty will further increase,” said P Sivakumar, director of KNP that houses the Big5s – Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, Indian Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Eastern Swamp Deer and Wild Water Buffalo.

In Kaziranga, located in the lowlands, where floods are a natural phenomenon every year, animals, used to move to the safety of Karbi Anglong hills located on the other side of National Highway 37. This has become a problem recently due to heavy traffic over the NH 37, encroachments in the fringes of at least six out of nine animal corridors and poaching of animals in the Hills. Several animals have died in road accidents.

“Authorities in the Kaziranga National park introduced the time cards facilities to regulate vehicular movement of the national highway for the safety of animals; this has decreased the accidents significantly since last year,” Sivakumar said.

At least 114 animals — 11 rhinos, 88 hog deer, seven wild boars, four wild buffaloes, two swamp deer, two porcupines, one sambar and one python – have died in the National park due to floods this year.

According to experts, smaller highlands might be more effective for the park than a long stretch of a highland as wild buffaloes and rhinos are very territorial and a breach within their territories may lead to infighting.

The park has over 2,400 rhinos and 3000 wild buffaloes, while it only has a total of 144 man-made highlands. Thirty-three of them were constructed in 2019 on a total area of 1.5 hectares which cost the state around Rs 16 crores and 111 in the year 1990.

“However, they are not enough to house all the animals in the park during annual floods. With the floods getting more devastating, the highlands are falling short in proportion of the park’s rhino population. We do need highlands, but, to allow free flow of floodwaters within,” Sivakumar said.

Though floods had been an integral part of KNP, it had been reeling under devastating ones that had only grown in intensity in the last ten years, barring 2018.

This year alone, the 884 sq km National Park had reeled under three waves of a flood, one deadlier than another.

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