Conservation Planning for Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape
Kaziranga is part of a larger landscape that extends south into the Karbi Anglong hills. These hills are the lifeline of the wildlife of Kaziranga during the monsoon period. With the rising flood waters of the Brahmaputra, most of the animals are forced to move to higher ground. Under this project, we are evaluating the use of corridors by elephants and tracking their movements through GPS collaring to determine the minimum area required by them in the hill region during the season of floods in order to plan for habitat protection.
ANCF, IISC, APPL Foundation, Department of Forest, Govt of Assam
Prof. R. Sukumar (Head of team), Dr. H.S. Suresh (Research Botanist), Ms Seema Lokhandwala (Field Biologist).
The elephant population of Kaziranga National Park has been estimated at about 1200 individuals (according to censuses conducted by the forest department in recent years, the last being in 2012). This is thus a very significant population of the Asian elephant as less than 10 populations are believed to total 1000 or more elephants in the continent (Santiapillai and Jackson 1990). One characteristic feature of the elephant population of northeastern India is that a notable proportion of the males are tuskless (in Kaziranga about 50% of all mature males are tuskless, and over two-thirds of the oldest males are tuskless – Chelliah and Sukumar 2013) thus making them immune to poaching for ivory. The adult male to female ratios of the Kaziranga elephant population is consequently among the least skewed in India, conferring high genetic variability and potential (Vidya et al. 2005).
Conflicts between elephants and agriculture are prevalent outside the park, especially in the southeastern part (district Golaghat) that witnesses the movements of large elephant herds between Kaziranga, southern Assam and possibly Nagaland.
Kaziranga is part of a larger landscape that extends south into the Karbi Anglong hills. These hills are the lifeline of the wildlife of Kaziranga during the monsoon period. With the rising flood waters of the Brahmaputra, most of the animals ar e forced to move to higher ground. To the south of the park, most of the land is settled and is either under tea or paddy cultivation. A major highway also runs parallel to the southern boundary of the park. The result is that the free movement of wildlife including elephants is curtailed from the existing land use and the traffic on the highway, placing them at risk during the period of high floods each year. At the same time, the elephants also face the risk of being poached in the Karbi Anglong hills in the absence of any meaningful protection of this region that comes under the political control of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council within the state of Assam.
A few corridors still exist along the southern boundary of the park, connecting Kaziranga to the Karbi Anglong hills (Menon et al. 2005). Most of these narrow passages lie towards the western part of the park, but at least one important passage lies towards the east. The three major corridors (one in the east and two in the west, though there are also some other minor passages in the west) are:
- The Panbari corridor (in the east)
- The Kanchanjuri corridor (in the west)
- The Kukurakata-Bagser (Burapahad) corridor (in the west)
Although the main corridors have been identified, there has been no investigation of the actual intensity of use of these corridors by elephants and of the ranging pattern of elephants in the Karbi Anglong hills during the monsoon. Indeed, there has been no conservation planning at the scale of the Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong landscape to determine the minimum area of habitat in the unprotected Karbi Anglong hills that is necessary to secure the long-term future of this elephant population. Such conservation planning and implementation is necessarily a long drawn process that involves a number of steps involving several projects and stakeholders.
From the conservation point of view, besides Kaziranga National Park, the Karbi Anglong landscape is an extremely important habitat for elephants as it provides refuge for them during the flood season. Elephants may also range across Karbi Anglong during other seasons.Conservation planning for the Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong elephant landscape would ideally involve the following investigations:
- To map the Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong landscape using satellite imagery to determine the major vegetation and land use types, patterns of development between the floodplains and the hills to the south, as well as the passages available for the movement of elephant and other wildlife between these two regions.
- To track the movement of elephants within and across the two regions using Global Positioning System (GPS) collars to determine seasonal habitat use, the frequency and time of use of corridors, range sizes in Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong, and the maximum altitudinal extent of movement in the Karbi hills.
- To determine the broader use of corridors by the elephant population through ground-based observationsusing camera trapsand field surveys.
- To analyse patterns of traffic along the highway running west-east along the southern periphery of Kaziranga National Park (some work has already been done by the forest department with the help of local NGOs).
- To map the nature and extent of elephant-human conflicts across this landscape, efficacy of present mitigation measures, and carrying a sociological survey of people’s attitudes towards the elephant.
- Once the home ranges of elephants in the Karbi Anglong is ascertained, carry out a detailed land-use mapping of this area and a socio-economic analysis to explore the possibilities of maintaining land use that is friendly to elephants and other wildlife.
- To initiate conservation planning through a political process involving the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council, the Assam State Government, and the Government of India that would potentially be the source of the substantial funding needed to achieve conservation in the long term.
- To implement a landscape-scale elephant conservation plan with funding from Government of India and other donor agencies.
Three years from commencement
- The proposed study will answer questions pertaining to the movement pattern of elephants and especially the use of Karbi Anglong during the period when Kaziranga is flooded. Data on movement would be made available to all forest department officials through a website so that they could also manage or mitigate potential conflicts with people.
- The study aims to look at population structure of elephants.
- The study aims to determine the home ranges of elephants in the Karbi Anglong. Also to analyse socio-economic to explore the possibilities of maintaining land use that is friendly to elephants and other wildlife.
Terms of Reference
- The data on movement would be made available to all forest department officials through a website so that they could also manage or mitigate potential conflicts with people.
- All publications pertaining to the study will be duly shared with the forest department officials.