Animals seek refuge on highlands

Floods drive rhinos out of Kaziranga park
Kaziranga National Park (KNP)’s man-made highlands have turned into islands of relative safety for the park’s animals as large parts of Assam remain inundated by flood waters.
Among the handful of species that have taken refuge in these patches of higher ground are the one-horned rhino and the water buffalo, while most other animals have moved to the hills of Karbi Anglong district just beyond a highway that runs along the southern fringe of the park. Floods are a necessary evil in Kaziranga, which comprises a mix of wetlands, grasslands and forests. Every monsoon, the neighbouring Brahmaputra inundates the 880 sq km park — its core area is 430 sq km — primarily serving to flush out the aquatic plants and weeds that choke its ecosystem. The annual natural process, however, tests the survivability of the park’s animals and leaves a trail of death.
Two decades ago, the Assam Forest Department constructed 111 highlands as an experiment. It helped keep a few animals above the water level but served little purpose when 75% or more of the park was flooded. In 2017, the park authorities started work on 33 more highlands that were bigger in dimension. “The older ones were 100×40 metres in area and 4 metres high,” said Rohini B. Saikia, KNP’s Divisional Forest Officer. “The newer ones are 100×50 metres and 5 metres high,” Mr. Saikia added. The new highlands, constructed at a cost of Rs. 13 crore, were designed scientifically with provision for adequate grass, and plants yielding fruits such as elephant apple and Indian gooseberry, said State Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya. “These highlands have helped us reduce the animal casualty during floods this year,” the minister added.
KNP Director P. Sivakumar said the highlands have provided temporary relief, especially for the rhinos.

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