GUWAHATI, April 28 - Voicing concern over the Centre�s directive to the Assam government to construct more artificial highlands in Kaziranga National Park ahead of the ensuing flood season, prominent conservation groups have urged the authorities to abandon the plan, cautioning that haphazard and unscientific construction of more highlands would cause irreparable damage to Kaziranga�s floodplain ecosystem.
Instead of highlands, the conservationists said, emphasis should be put on grassland management, restoration of wetlands, and anti-erosion measures, besides facilitating undisturbed animal movement in the animal corridors and the adjoining Karbi hills.
�Creating more artificial highland inside a floodplain ecosystem will hasten the process of ecological succession and Kaziranga will no longer remain a habitat of rhino, swamp deer, wild buffalo, etc. As the floodplain ecosystem will change to a drier habitat, in the long run it will not be suitable for these animals. Secondly, construction of additional artificial highland will drastically change the hydrology of the park. This means the flow of water, especially in the flood period, will change to a great extent, hampering the natural cleaning mechanism of the ecosystem,� a joint statement by Dr Anupam Sarmah of WWF India, Dr Bibhab Talukdar of Aaranyak, Dr Rathin Barman of Wildlife Trust of India, and Kaushik Barua of Assam Elephant Foundation said.
Elaborating further, Dr Talukdar told The Assam Tribune that the water hyacinth would colonise the wetlands of the park and trigger ecological problems for the wild animals, including alteration of palatable plant species on which grassland dwellers depend.
�Change of hydrology will also change the plant species of the park. Palatable grasses for the wildlife might be replaced with unpalatable plant species in the long run. In every flood, the highlands will erode naturally, causing extra silt deposition in the wetlands and water channels which eventually will dry out. This will add to more damage of Kaziranga�s already fragile ecosystem. Unscientific highlands lead to alteration of the state of the vegetation/habitat composition, as the vegetation is a product of soil moisture regime, soil nutrients, seed bank and other abiotic and biotic factors,� he said.
Change of vegetation is likely to compel the animals to stray out of the park boundary, especially during the drier seasons. This will bring more threat to the animals, especially to the rhinos. �Because of this, human-animal conflict may also rise in the surrounding villages to a great extent. Creation of artificial highlands will also change the visibility for animals inside the park, affecting the prey-predator reflex in some areas of the park.
Reacting to the development, Kaziranga National Park director P Sivakumar said that no new highlands were proposed inside the core area and that the existing central road would be strengthened in view of the floods.
�Priority will be given on buffer and corridor areas, i.e., Bandardubi, Deosur, Panpur and Laokhowa, while a stretch of 32-km road inside the park will be widened and elevated. Three more additions � seventh, eighth and ninth � will be enhanced with areas of 3,000 hectares,� he said.
Conservationists, however, maintain that new highlands were unwelcome even outside the core area of the park, as the wildlife habitat�s ecology was an intricate and inter-connected one.
They also pointed out that natural floods were the only external factor having an overwhelming power to regulate the Kaziranga ecosystem by controlling wildlife populations.
�More highlands in Kaziranga means we are even allowing unfit wild animals to survive in natural flood and thereby disturbing the natural selection process which is popularly known as survival of the fittest,� Dr Talukdar said.
The plains of Kaziranga along with the natural highlands of Karbi Anglong is a single entity and the importance of the Karbi Anglong hills should be appreciated and free movement of animals should be allowed rather than constructing artificial highlands.