Kaziranga counts its dead

This isn’t tourist time in Kaziranga, and the picture nowhere close to being as green as it is meant to be. It’s time to count the dead. With the water level receding in the past three days (that would be a moment’s respite before the second, third, fourth and fifth waves come in), the staff at the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) is gearing up to assess the extent of damage, so far: it includes, among others, 36 animals dead, and a completely destroyed network of roads. Worst of all, there is only the damaged 5 km Arimora dyke that now stands between the 430 square kilometre park and the floods that could destroy it from the north. For now, there isn’t much time to talk about the 60 KNP security personnel who are bedridden after being injured by the animals in the park. “The number of men wounded by rhinos would be more,” says Niranjan Kumar Vasu, the park’s director.

“Of the thirty-six animals killed so far, eleven were run over by speeding vehicles while trying to cross the highway through the four corridors within the KNP,” says Vasu. “Another eleven drowned, while fourteen animals died while being rescued by our men.”

Of the park’s 500 km of roads, bridges and dykes, most of it is now in a shambles. The Mihi bridge, which links the main thoroughfare to the major tourist destinations within the park, was under flood water for several days, and if not immediately repaired, the coming tourist season could be a mess. “The extent of damage in the first wave itself could have been worse in case the water had entered with the force as it did in 1998,” says Vasu. The damage so far notwithstanding, the flood water rose gradually, giving the animals precious time to take refuge in highlands or migrate out of the park through the corridors. In 1998, a total of 652 animals fell victim to the havoc that floods wreak in the park every year. The signs this year too are ominous. “We are praying for the best,” says Vasu.

Located in the Bokakhat sub-division of the Golaghat district in Upper Assam, KNP rarely receives attention when it needs it the most. Not too many, for example, discuss the fact that the park does not receive the funds required for maintaining a sanctuary that is 4,300 hectares in size, and home to thousands of animals, many of them on the list of endangered species. “The annual recurring expenditure is above Rs 1 crore but we never get it,” says Vasu. “We have to depute at least 100 casual labours apart from the permanent ones to keep the roads inside the park motorable.” The requirement list seems endless: battery cells for at least 700 security guards deputed in the 125 camps, kerosene oil for the camps of patrolling guards, fuel for 15 vehicles, six motorboats, four speedboats and one big ferry.
For now, KNP is doing what any government department is expected to do in such circumstances: submit a proposal for flood damage and future precautions that need to be taken, to the state chief minister. If anyone is willing to listen that is.

By Bijoy Shankar Handique (newsfiledelhi@hotmail.com)