Could a big flood drive the Eastern Kaziranga swamp deer to extinction?

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Guwahati: What happens if a heavy flood or epidemic wipes out the Eastern Swamp Deer population in Kaziranga?

It may seem too dramatic, but it cannot be ruled out completely. Why? Because census results of Eastern Swamp Deer in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve showed a slight decrease in their numbers due to two heavy floods in 2019 and 2020.

Eastern Swamp Deer Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhii, known locally as ‘Dal horina’ is the rarest subspecies of swamp deer recognized in India and Nepal. The stronghold of the Eastern Swamp Deer is in Kaziranga, with a population of less than 1,000.

The other two subspecies are the swamp deer (Rd duvaucelii) found in the Gangetic Plains and Hard Swamp Deer (Rd Branderi) found in central India.

A statement released by the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve Field Manager says that for the first time, Eastern Swamp Deer have been counted across the entire Kaziranga Tiger Reserve and National Park on 10 and January 11.

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“Previously, this was only done in Kaziranga National Park. In the total count method, 868 individuals were recorded including 173 males, 557 females and 138 yearlings. There is a slight decrease in population due to heavy flooding in 2019 and 2020.”

Regarding the territory, East Assam wildlife division recorded 786, Biswanath wildlife division recorded 62 and 20 were recorded in Nagaon wildlife division by experts from wildlife experienced and trained outside the forest department. A total of 29 investigators and 112 forest officers took part in the exercise.

“Kaziranga is home to the eastern swamp deer, and the population is still well under a thousand, which is undesirable. A heavy flood or an epidemic could wipe out the entire population at once. We need to develop a few more populations of this animal elsewhere through conservation translocation so that the animal thrives without having the current major threats like flooding. The government should prioritize this animal for conservation,” said Rathin Barman, Co-Director and Chief Strategy Officer, North East of Wildlife Trust of India. IsMojo.

The Wildlife Trust of India’s initiative to translocate eastern swamp deer to Manas National Park has shown good results, with the population now estimated at 121, according to the 2021 census.

“We transferred 19 and 17 Eastern Swamp Deer to Manas National Park, and Manas now has a good population. The 2021 survey put the figure at 121. Manas has no flood threat like Kaziranga. Flooding is the biggest threat to this animal in Kaziranga,” adds Barman.

“We need to find areas where the eastern swamp deer can be relocated but where the threat of flooding like in Kaziranga is not there,” he says.

The scientific name of the subspecies Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhii is named after MK Ranjitsinh, one of India’s leading voices on conservation in India, who helped identify it as a distinct subspecies of swamp deer.

Talk to IsMojoMr. K. Ranjitsinh said that there is a strong need to have more populations of Eastern Swamp Deer in different parts of Assam as it is not good to keep all the eggs in one basket.

“There is already a population in Manas, but we need to have more in places like Orang and Panidihing,” Ranjitsinh said. He added that species like the eastern swamp deer need equal attention like the tiger, rhino and lion.

Senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, Qamar Qureshi told EastMojo that population parameters appear to be good in Kaziranga.

“Secondary residence in Manas must be strengthened by increasing this population of Kaziranga. In the future, Kaziranga and elsewhere should adopt methods based on recently developed camera traps, remote sampling and a random encounter model, for more robust population monitoring.

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However, P Sivakumar, field manager of Kaziranga National Park, does not see so much cause for concern. “The population is stable and growing,” he says. IsMojo.

Wildlife biologist Firoz Ahmed agrees with Sivakumar. “The population has been stable since 2012. This is a very good trend using the total count method. I think the swamp deer population in Kaziranga is at its optimum given the natural and predatory control over it,” he says.

The swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii), commonly known as barasingha, is one of the large deer endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Studies show that swamp deer populations have suffered a steep decline throughout their historic range. In the 19th century, swamp deer were widely distributed in the foothills of the Himalayas, from Upper Assam west of the Yamuna River near Uttarakhand, the Indo-Gangetic plains, the Ganges and Godavari. There are currently about 5000 wild individuals inhabiting isolated habitat patches in the Indian subcontinent. Habitat alteration and fragmentation due to human-induced conversion of grasslands and wetlands to agricultural land has stripped viable ecosystems, where the species has always thrived.

Wetland bird estimate

In the 4th Wetland Bird Assessment carried out between December 21 and 27, a total of 66,776 birds of 126 species were found using the point count method. The Bar-headed Goose tops the list with 16,552 numbers, followed by the Northern Pintail with 9,493 and the Green-winged Teal with 5,631. The Rusty Duck with 2,236 individuals can be considered the high point of the estimate.

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