Kaziranga loses 573 animals to flood, apathy


GUWAHATI: In a sign of shocking administrative apathy, herds of animals trying to reach elevated ground to escape the Brahmaputra's furious, swirling floodwaters were run over on NH-37 by speeding trucks in the last one week.

Park officials said at least 20 animals, mostly deer, were killed on the high ground along the southern boundary of Kaziranga, and these numbers could go up because there isn't enough deployment of officials and volunteers to ensure that the speed limit set by the administration, of 10km per hour, is strictly imposed.

Considering it's a stretch of merely 50km where all these deaths have occurred, deployment of adequate volunteers wasn't too imposing a task. Worse, the floods, one of the most severe in over two decades, also damaged Kaziranga's anti-poaching infrastructure, posing danger to its wide variety of wildlife from poachers.

On Sunday, Kaziranga National Park officials found 14 more carcasses of animals, taking the number of animals drowned to 573. The worst floods in the last 25 years were witnessed in 1988 when 1,203 animals perished, while in 1998, more than 650 animals, including 29 rhinos, were killed.

Many of the reserve's 152 anti-poaching camps are underwater; 16 of these had to be shifted to other locations when the water level of the Brahmaputra rose on June 29. The mud tracks, crucial for the movement of park officials and forest guards, too, are damaged. Most animals killed were either too old to escape the hungry tides or too young.

"Although the animals adapt well with flood-dependent ecology of Kaziranga, the ones too young are left behind. So are old and diseased animals," said M Firoz Ahmed, a wildlife biologist of Aaranyak.

"We found 14 more carcasses of hog deer and sambars in Kaziranga. We're still looking for more carcasses. We're using elephants to move inside the park as all roads are damaged," said park director S Bora. Bewilderingly, despite the magnitude of the deluge, helicopters haven't been used to see where human intervention may help in reducing the scale of the unfolding tragedy.

A large number of animals migrated to elevated grounds in the adjoining Karbi Anglong area when 80% of the park area was inundated on June 29, when, according to Assam environment and forest minister Rockybul Hussain, water level in Kaziranga touched 76.46m - 1.44m above the danger level.

Of the 573 animals killed, 14 are Assam's famed one-horned rhinos which are on the endangered list, one elephant, one wild buffalo, 486 hog deer, 10 swamp deer, 21 sambhars, 31 wild boars, two hog badgers, two gaurs, one jackal and five porcupines. While the water level dropped to 74.5m, it's still too early to rule out more animal deaths.

"We are assessing the extent of damage to park infrastructure. It will take some time to complete the exercise," said Hussain.

Despite the loss of wildlife during floods, Kaziranga's ecology is intricately linked to it. Located on the southern banks of the Brahmaputra, the annual floods recharge the vast grassland and 200-odd wetlands dotting the park for the survival of carnivores and herbivores. In 2006 and 2009, when the state experienced a drought-like situation, animals in Kaziranga, especially rhinos, faced a lack of fresh vegetation.

Centre directs spot appraisal of Kaziranga animal deaths


New Delhi: Concerned over death of wild animals in the recent floods in Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in Assam, Centre today deputed a top official to undertake a spot appraisal of the situation.

After reviewing the flood situation in Kaziranga due to which mortality of as many as 595 wild animals has been reported, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan deputed country's top tiger conservationist Rajesh Gopal to study the situation.

"The Minister has directed me to visit Kaziranga. I will visit the Tiger Reserve tomorrow to study the situation there," Gopal, who is Member Secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, told PTI.

Gopal also said so far no tiger deaths have been reported from Tiger Reserve, which has an area of 1033 sq km and includes the Kaziranga National Park, Bura Chapori Wildlife Sanctuary and Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Earlier, Assam had been requested to declare the adjoining Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary as a Tiger Reserve to enable adequate protection with Project Tiger assistance.

This would be reiterated for expediting during the visit of Gopal alongwith his team for spot appraisal and to strengthen the efforts by assisting the state.

Earlier, Environment Ministry issued a statement saying it reviewed flood situation based on report submitted by M Firoz Ahmad, Member, National Tiger Conservation Authority.

He was asked to make a spot appraisal of Kaziranga in the wake of recent floods.

As per the report, death of 17 Rhinos was reported and most of them were from the older age group, besides calves.

"However, three of them have been poached. The hog deer mortality, in particular has been reported very high (512)," it said.

The report has also highlighted the need for relieving the corridor areas from human pressure and avoiding change in land use pattern.

The Ministry said that an alternate alignment has been agreed upon for diverting or widening the NH-37. However, since the said highway is in use, the NHAI would be approached for providing flyovers at vantage points for the traffic.

This would prevent road hits, while providing safe passage for wild animals from beneath, the Ministry said.