Provided it is sufficiently large, when a faunal area has been long subject to some seasonal devastating occurrence like flood or fire, conservationists agree that nothing should be done to eliminate it. The reason for this is simple and valid when the wildlife has survived through a recurring misfortune for generations, obviously it does not constitute a real threat to the fauna and flora of the area. Moreover, specially with regard to periodic flooding its prevention will definitely affect the nature of the wild vegetation — if land subject to such inundations is rendered dry, its entire cover of vegetation is bound to change.

Since the animal life of a place is so closely and in so many ways dependent on its native flora I too have said, along with others, that the prevention of the periodic flooding of the Kaziranga Sanctuary would probably be disastrous, and result in a total change of the floral ecology of the area, rendering it unsuitable for rhinoceroses, wild buffaloes, swamp deer and the many other animals for which it is famed. The bheels and streams, and the stretches of marshland and the moist flats covered with herbage, that are such a feature of the sanctuary, would give place to a different kind of terrain and vegetation altogether. And with floods and wide swamps eliminated the land would have been reclaimed more than half way towards human occupation.

The accounts I have been reading of the recent flooding of the sanctuary, however have induced second thoughts on the subject in me. It is not as if the floods in themselves, are too destructive of the animal life but that they create conditions that seem to favour the poachers and that the lines of escape available to the animals from the oncoming floodwaters may not be there in the future.

That the animals can survive the suddenness and violence of the floods has been proved over and over again, in the past. A few may die, a few do die but that makes no difference to the future of the species — their deaths is the price the animals have to pay for the terrain and vegetation most congenial to their life for the rest of the year. But what alarms me is that when the escaping animals have retreated to comparatively much circumscribed high ground, they become much more vulnerable to poaching. Such reductions in numbers by poaching make it much more difficult for the reduced populations of the animals to recover from acts of God, like floods.

For the past week I have been thinking this rather cautious thought would it not be advisable, not to eliminate but to limit the disaster, to control the floods so that they are less sudden and depletive in their spread and violence? Modern engineering, which has achieved much greater feats of channeling the most potent forces of nature, can surely do this — why even our structural skill of long ago would have sufficed to devise some suitable control. Some system of elevated sluices and the provision of easy routes for the animals from the inundated flat country to more elevated terrain might suffice ~ if the overflow from the suddenly swollen Bhrahamputra nd its tributaries can be slowed somewhat, so that the flooding is less immediate it may be possible to induce the animals to take safe routes to elevated country that can be guarded.

We should not lose sight of an inevitable consequence of these seasonal inundations, whether or not they can be controlled. The water-hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipest) that has invaded Kaziranga comparatively recently and which is such an ubiquitous feature of its bheels and sluggish waters, will definitely be the gainer by the floods. Broken into small bits and floating on the highly efficient buoys provided by its swollen a refilled petioles it will establish and reestablish itself firmly wherever there is a hollow or a bheel. Most animals in the sanctuary have now come to accept the weed and eat it desultorily, but that is only because it has so completely ousted the original native vegetation of the shallow waters and watersides. This forced change of fodder may not be good for the animals that now eat the water-hyacinth, such as the elephant, the rhino and the buffalo.

The problem of poaching, intensified when the animals have been driven by the floodwaters to foothill’s and marooned on temporary islands remains, it is a major problem and a most vexing one, and only the sternest measures, courageously and persistently enforced, can solve it.

 

This was published on 8 July 1968