By Nilanga Jayasinghe, Senior Program Officer – Asian Species, WWF-US
I had been in Assam for almost a week, working hard with the Landscape team, when we decided to head towards Kaziranga National Park on the off chance that we might see some wildlife. The floods in the area have been severe this year, and we have already seen numerous casualties, both in terms of people and wildlife. The affected communities continue to receive relief supplies and services to help them get by. For the wildlife, their relief comes in the form of being able to cross over from the flooded park and into the adjacent KarbiAnglong Hills. In fact, they do this often throughout the year, since wildlife roam large areas and do not recognize human-imposed boundaries. But in the way of this regular movement is a road – NH37, to be precise – that lies right in the middle of some key wildlife movement corridors. So as vehicular traffic moves along the road, wildlife need special help crossing the road, especially during flood times since there is much more movement as they attempt to flee the rising waters. It is during this time that the Forest Department becomes extra vigilant and does a tremendous job helping stop and slow traffic as wildlife cross the road.
So as we were driving down this highway, approaching the Kanchanjuri corridor at around 4:30 pm, I was busy taking pictures of the signs on the road when my colleague became more excited than I’ve ever seen him. ‘Look, look, look,” he said and pointed to the left of the wildlife crossing sign. Just then, an elephant stepped out, possibly the matriarch of the herd, looked fiercely at the traffic as if daring the cars to come forth, and marched confidently on to the road, with the rest of her family following her. Within a few seconds, a herd of about 10 elephants crossed the road and went on their happy way towards the hills. It was completely unexpected, since wildlife generally tend to move the most from dusk to dawn, and it was still light out. If we had driven through a few minutes earlier, or a few minutes later, we would have completely missed this magical moment.
We know of wildlife crossing through these areas, and have, on occasion, captured the movement of various species on camera. But as I snapped this photo on my phone, I didn’t realize till later that it was the perfect evidence we needed to demonstrate the importance of such areas and to ensure that such movement corridors remain protected so wildlife can move about their homes for years to come. For an elephant person like myself, these are the types of moments that remind me why I do what I do, why I work hard for elephants and other wildlife, and why our work to protect wildlife corridors and magnificent species like Asian elephants is so important. Perhaps they knew that and decided to come out and say hello just in the nick of time…