herd of Swamp Deer at the Kaziranga National Park
File photo of a herd of Swamp Deer at the Kaziranga National Park Credit: Anuwar ali hazarika/Creative Commons

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

This might sound too dramatic, but it cannot be ruled out entirely. Why? Because results of the Eastern Swamp Deer census at the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve have revealed a slight decrease in their numbers due to two high floods in 2019 and 2020.

Eastern swamp deer Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhii, locally known as ‘Dal horina’ is the rarest recognised subspecies of swamp deer 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 wetland swamp deer (R.d. duvaucelii) found in Gangetic plains and hardground swamp deer (R.d. branderi) found in central India.

A statement released by the Field Director Kaziranga Tiger Reserve says for the first time, Eastern Swamp Deer have been counted in the whole of the Kaziranga national park and tiger reserve on January 10-11.

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“Earlier, it was done only in the Kaziranga National Park. In the total count method, 868 individuals have been recorded which includes 173 males, 557 females and 138 yearlings. There is a slight decrease in population due to high floods in 2019 and 2020.”

Territory wise, Eastern Assam Wildlife Division recorded 786, Biswanath Wildlife Division recorded 62 and 20 were recorded in Nagaon Wildlife Division by experienced and trained wildlife experts from outside the forest department. A total of 29 enumerators and 112 forest personnel were engaged in the exercise.

“Kaziranga is the stronghold of Eastern Swamp Deer, and the population is still well below one thousand, which is not desirable. A strong flood or an epidemic might wipe out the whole population at once. We need to develop a few more populations of this animal elsewhere through conservation translocation so that the animal flourish without having the current major threats like a flood. Government should prioritize this animal for conservation” Rathin Barman, Joint Director and Chief of Strategy, North East of Wildlife Trust of India, told EastMojo.

Wildlife Trust of India’s initiative to translocate Eastern Swamp Deer to Manas national park has shown some good results, with a population now estimated at 121, according to the 2021 census.

“We translocated 19 and 17 Eastern Swamp Deer to Manas national park, and Manas has a good population now. The 2021 survey put the figure at 121. Manas does not have a flood threat like Kaziranga. Flood is the biggest threat of this animal in Kaziranga,” Barman adds.

“We need to find areas where Eastern Swamp Deer can be translocated but where the threat of floods like in Kaziranga is not there,” he says.

The subspecies’ scientific name Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhii is named after MK Ranjitsinh, one of India’s leading voices on conservation in India contribution towards the identification of it as a separate subspecies of swamp deer.

Speaking to EastMojo, M K Ranjitsinh said there is a dire need to have more populations of the Eastern Swamp Deer in different areas of Assam as it is not good to keep all the eggs in one basket.

“There is one population in Manas already, but we need to have more in places like Orang and Panidihing,” Ranjitsinh said. He added that species like the Eastern Swamp Deer needs equal focus like the tiger, rhino and lion.

Senior Scientist at Wildlife Institute of India, Qamar Qureshi told EastMojo that population parameters seem to be fine in Kaziranga. 

“The second home in Manas needs to be strengthened by augmenting that population from Kaziranga. In the future, Kaziranga and elsewhere should adopt recently developed camera trap-based methods, distance sampling and random encounter model, for more robust monitoring of population.”

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However, P Sivakumar, Field Director, Kaziranga National Park, does not see so much cause for concern. “The population is stable and expanding,” he tells EastMojo

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

The swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii), commonly known as barasingha, is one of the large cervids endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Studies show Swamp deer populations have undergone a steep decline throughout their historical range. During the 19th century, swamp deer were widely distributed throughout the Himalayan foothills from Upper Assam to the west of the river Yamuna near Uttarakhand, the Indo-Gangetic plains, Ganges and Godavari. There are currently around 5000 wild individuals inhabiting isolated habitat patches in the Indian subcontinent. Habitat alteration and fragmentation due to anthropogenic conversion of grasslands and wetlands to agricultural land have denuded viable ecosystems, where the species has historically thrived. 

Wetland Bird Estimation

In the 4th wetland bird estimation carried out between December 21-27, a total of 66,776 birds of 126 species were found using the point count method. Bar-headed Goose topped the list with 16,552 numbers followed by Northern Pintail with 9,493 and Common Teal with 5.631. Ferruginous Duck with 2,236 individuals may be regarded as the highlight of the estimation. 

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