Study traces flood-driven wildlife migration in Kaziranga

Two scientists followed six large herbivore species — Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic water buffalo, sambar, hog deer and muntjac.

December 18, 2020 08:34 pm | Updated 08:35 pm IST - GUWAHATI:

A wild tusker walking in the Agoratoli range at Kaziranga national park east of Gauhati.

A wild tusker walking in the Agoratoli range at Kaziranga national park east of Gauhati.

Few animals relish bamboo as much as the black-and-white panda. Three of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve’s Big Five animals too go for the tallest grass on earth, albeit temporarily, says a study on their flood-driven migration.

A team of five scientists had followed the movement of the animals in three phases — pre-flood, during, and immediately after a major flood — between 2015 and 2016. Their study covering a 204 sq km strip between Kaziranga and the hilly Karbi Anglong district to its south was published in the Science of the Total Environment journal.

The scientists, Varun R. Goswami, Divya Vasudev, Bhavendu Joshi, Prity Hait and Pragyan Sharma, are associated with a Guwahati-based trust called Conservation Initiatives as well as the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bengaluru.

“We surveyed the intervening human-dominated space on either side of National Highway 37 to assess large herbivore movement and space use between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong,” Dr. Goswami said.

The highway runs along the southern boundary of Kaziranga. During high floods, animals of the park cross this highway for the safety of the hills of Karbi Anglong. The survey covered all tea estates, wooded areas, crop lands and bamboo groves.

Three of Kaziranga’s Big Five animals — Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros and Asiatic water buffalo —– were found to prefer bamboo cover on private lands, primarily tea estates, besides woodlands. The other two in this club are the tiger and swamp deer.

The elephants also preferred dry surroundings to waterlogged areas beyond Kaziranga.

Apart from the elephant, rhino and buffalo, the study found large herbivores such as sambar, hog deer, muntjac or barking deer, the carnivores tiger, leopard, leopard cat, jungle cat and fishing cat. There were civets, porcupines, primates, wild pigs and Indian hare.

“We used three layers of information to better understand these movement decisions. The first pertained to species traits, the second described characteristics of the risky human-dominated space that these animals need to traverse and finally, the extent of the flood itself,” Dr.Vasudev, a connectivity expert, said.

She added that the focus of the study was on areas beyond the designated corridors the animals move to, what areas they avoid and whether floods change their preferences. The scientists also sought probable actions that can be taken to ensure connectivity in the future.

The study linked climate change-induced stress and risks animals face in increasingly human-dominated landscapes. “There is a need for adaptive connectivity planning that accounts for an entire gamut of endangered species, changing seasons and climate, and human-induced risk,” Dr. Goswami said.

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