“The animals in Kaziranga National Park are running for their lives as the floods disrupt their habitat”. “Devastating floods in Kaziranga – animal death rising”. “Animals struggle to survive as floods inundating Kaziranga!”
These are some of the headlines that gain prominence every year during the monsoon or rather the flooding season. Pictures of animals swimming towards the highlands or stuck in rapid current hit just the right emotional chord.
Floods are the villain! A natural calamity! Why does it ever happen? Why every year? Why can’t government do something to stop this? This last question is perhaps the most common especially as it adapts to every woe one can imagine. But has anyone given a close thought as to who’s plight we are really concerned about? That of the wild animals or our own? Let’s take a closer look.
Truth is, floods play an important role in maintaining key ecosystem functions and biodiversity. They link the river with the land surrounding it, recharge groundwater systems, fill wetlands, increase the connectivity between aquatic habitats, and move both sediment and nutrients around the landscape. For many species, floods trigger breeding events, migration, and dispersal. These natural systems are resilient to the effects of floods. Apart from the environmental benefits, flooding also helps the economy through increased agricultural and fish production, recharge of groundwater resources, to mention a few.
The Kaziranga national park is situated on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra and primarily consists of alluvial grasslands, woodlands, tropical moist mixed deciduous forest, and tropical semi-evergreen forest. In layman’s terms Kaziranga is a flood plain, and as the term suggests, floods are the primary means by which it keeps its own health alive and that of the animals that inhabits it. This is the way it is meant to be. Not having floods or stopping them will have disastrous effect on the park and its inhabitants.
Whether it is the Swamp Deer, Hog Deer, Elephants, Rhinos or the several hundred birds that call Kaziranga home, all have known how to deal with the floods from time immemorial. For the animals, floods aren’t the real problem; the problem is us, who have made the flood plains our home. Floods do not come naturally to human beings, which is why the “animal lover” in us tend to see these animals jostling in water as “struggling to survive”.
“Survival of the fittest” – we all know what this phrase means and that it originates from nature. The animals that inhabit the flood plains are also part of the same ecological cycle. So when the floods come, some of them may die. It is quite natural.
Indeed, the animals do undertake an unnatural struggle to survive, which is not natural. This is when they struggle to get into conflicts with human beings. Wild animals tend to move to high grounds at the time of floods, but what happens when these high grounds surrounding the park are obstructed by us who have made them our home ?
Many animals are not killed by nature but by the opportunistic killing of those who come across these stranded migrating animals, mainly for their meat.
Then there are casualties that take place on the highway that passes alongside Kaziranga. Many animals die in collisions with speeding vehicles. During the floods, though, the numbers are much higher as the animals attempt to reach the hills of Karbi Anglong by crossing the highway. Organized gangs of wildlife criminals are waiting in the shadows to make a killing out of such high value animals.
During the floods, Kaziranga authorities try their hardest to reduce animal-human conflict situations. A number of non-government organisations and individuals wholeheartedly support this endeavor and work tirelessly to minimize such conflicts by controlling vehicular traffic and rescuing animals that foray into nearby villages.
But anti-poaching measures take their toll. Once rhinos or tigers reach the hills, many do not return because of a lack of monitoring or “eyes” that can keep watch, which means that they may have been poached for their body parts. There have also been cases where poachers have ventured inside Kaziranga and killed rhinos stranded in highlands, even as the staff is engaged in saving the animals from the floods.
In this wheel of life called Kaziranga, paying attention to animals killed in collisions by speeding vehicles is far more mundane, as well as dangerous, than animals killed by the flooding Brahmaputra. It is time all of us looked beyond the headlines.