Devastating floods have hit India’s northeastern state of Assam, killing close to 200 and displacing almost 4 million people.
Around 28 of the state’s 33 districts have been affected, making it one of the worst floods in recent times with 130,000 hectares of farmland being damaged. So far it is estimated that 50,000 people have been relocated to relief camps set up by the government.
The floods come just as the country battles with COVID-19, with some towns in the region having recently entered renewed lockdowns.
How is Elephant Family’s work affected?
In partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India, Elephant Family have successfully brought about the introduction of wildlife corridors in Northern India. The Deosur Elephant Corridor is one of the five vital wildlife corridors in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape in Assam, NE India, through which local herds regularly migrate.
These wildlife corridors are vital for the secure, free movement of elephants and larger fauna within human landscapes. As much of Kaziranga is underwater as a result of the flooding, widlife will have been displaced from these corridors and forced to take different routes. The legislation behind the project will of course remain in place, and we are hopeful that the authorities will continue their current work to protect the safe movement of wildlife.
Read more about our wildlife corridor projects here.
How are wildlife being affected?
An estimated 3.4 million animals have also been affected by the floods. According to Assam state officials, more than 100 animals including nine rhinos, wild buffalo, deer and wild boar have died.
More than 85% of the famous Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve is under flood water. The reserve houses the Bengal tiger, as well as elephants and the rare one-horned Indian rhino.
More than 2,400 rhinos of this species inhabit the park, while there is a high concentration of the endangered tiger.
Since the deluge began, rangers and wildlife officials have been deployed to help rescue struggling and stranded animals like this rhino calf who was separated from her mother:
— Kaziranga National Park & Tiger Reserve (@kaziranga_) July 16, 2020
Wildlife seeking refuge from the floods has become a common sight across the region. This video of an exhausted male rhino resting on a roadside is one such example:
A rhino have strayed out near bandar dhubi area at Bagori Range yesterday and taking rest near NH37. The DRIVE OUT Operation is being carried out to guide the rhino to park. Our staffs along with @nagaonpolice are guarding the area. Drive Slow.@ParimalSuklaba1 @RandeepHooda pic.twitter.com/3avQXbqtHF
— Kaziranga National Park & Tiger Reserve (@kaziranga_) July 18, 2020
Why it’s not all bad news
The floods currently afflicting the state of Assam, despite devastating lives and landscapes actually play a vital role in the local and regional ecosystem.
Assam is traditionally flood prone, and the 1,055 sq km Kaziranga National Park is not exempt from this. According to P Sivakumar, Director of the Kaziranga National Park & Tiger Reserve, “It is a riverine ecosystem, not a solid landmass-based ecosystem, the system won’t survive without water.”
Uttam Saikia, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Kaziranga, says that this “floodplain eco system” has not only been created by floods but also feeds off it.
The experts say that floods help to replenish Kaziranga’s water reserves and maintain the landscape which is a mixture of wetlands, grasslands and deciduous forests. As well as this, the floodwaters also function as a breeding ground for fish. “The same fish are carried away by the receding waters into the Brahmaputra — in a way, the park replenishes the river’s stock of fish too”.
Not only do the floods play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, but it appears that they have encouraged human-wildlife coexistence. As mentioned above, rangers dubbed “Green Soldiers” have been working tirelessly to rescue stranded wildlife, many risking their lives to do so:
He is Siddarju, RFO from Nagarhole. He entered 100ft dry well to rescue a leopard. By locking himself in a metal cage with a torch and his mobile phone in hand, entered a dry well to rescue a leopard. This is what commitment looks like. Proud of such green soldiers. pic.twitter.com/HBJokpdDOd
— Parveen Kaswan, IFS (@ParveenKaswan) July 20, 2020
As ever, wildlife is pleading for the support of humans that share its home to save it. As this situation develops and we learn more about the longer term impacts we will endeavour to update our readers.