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Grassland & Agricultural Land in Kaziranga, Assam to Expand By 2050

A satellite data study predicts that water bodies, sand or dry river beds, and forests will decline in Kaziranga while grasslands and agricultural land will expand by 2050.

Shivam Dwivedi
Area covered by water bodies, grassland, and agricultural land has largely been converted into built-up areas and sand or dry river bed areas.
Area covered by water bodies, grassland, and agricultural land has largely been converted into built-up areas and sand or dry river bed areas.

A study titled "Land Use and Land Cover Change Monitoring and Prediction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kaziranga Eco-Sensitive Zone Using Cellular Automata-Markov Model" conducted by researchers from Gauhati University's Geography Department in collaboration with other institutions attempted to analyze land use land cover (LULC) change in the Kaziranga Eco-Sensitive Zone using remote sensing data.

Satellite remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) are widely used for LULC change dynamics monitoring, mapping, and change detection. The rate of change was calculated using data from the years 1990 to 2020. "Between 1990 and 2020, waterbodies, grassland, and agricultural land decreased by 18.4, 9.96, and 64.88%, respectively, while sand or dry river beds, forest, and built-up areas increased by 103.72, 6.96, and 89.03%, respectively.

According to the findings, the area covered by water bodies, grassland, and agricultural land has largely been converted into built-up areas and sand or dry river bed areas. "Water bodies, sand or dry river beds, and forests will decrease by 3.67, 3.91, and 7.11%, respectively, by 2050, while grassland and agriculture will increase by up to 16.67% and 0.37%, respectively," the study says. The Kaziranga Eco-Sensitive Zone borders the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot region. UNESCO designated Kaziranga National Park (KNP) as a World Heritage Site in 1985.

The study area includes the KNP and the eco-sensitive zone within a 10-kilometer radius of it. "The study area is one of the famous national parks in India, and biologically, it has a lot of significance. Kaziranga National Park is one of the world's oldest wildlife refuges. The park's contribution to saving the Indian one-horned rhinoceros from extinction at the turn of the twentieth century to housing the species' single largest population is a spectacular conservation achievement. As a result, LULC change in this national park is a pressing conservation issue," according to the study.

The landscape was divided into six distinct types for the study: waterbodies, sand or dry river beds, grassland, forest, built-up area, and agricultural lands. The eco-sensitive zone surrounding Kaziranga has changed dramatically over the last 30 years as a result of both human and natural factors. A notable anomaly can be found in several LULC classes in the area. "Nearly 264.39 square kilometres of agricultural land were lost between 1990 and 2020.

The majority of agricultural land has been converted into urban areas. Despite all of the rules and restrictions, the built-up areas in the surrounding eco-sensitive zone are constantly expanding. This growing trend of built-up areas is linked to development around the KNP, according to the study. According to the study, the region faces many challenges due to increased human intervention in this eco-sensitive zone, which covers a densely populated area. This area is critical to the ecosystem's survival.  " As a result of constant human influence, this area is gradually losing its natural characteristics.

Because of increased tourism activity, the southern part of the region is now seeing an increase in the surface area occupied by built-up areas and roads, which represents a significant disruption to the free movement of the animals. "We hope that the study's findings will assist relevant authorities and policymakers in practicing more environmentally responsible land and natural hazard management," it said. Furthermore, the NH-37 runs through the heart of the Kaziranga Eco-Sensitive Zone, and it is along this highway that the population has begun to grow rapidly as a result of development. As a result, less agricultural land and forest have been preserved.

The study area was negatively impacted by the expansion of the built-up area in the southern part of the region, which is primarily bounded by the Karbi Anglong hills, from 2010 to 2020.  The expansion of sand and dry river beds is a major issue, particularly in the northern part of the study area, and has resulted in a decrease in the size of the body of water over the last three years. "If current trends continue, built-up areas, sand or dry river beds, and grassland are expected to increase, while water bodies, forests, and agricultural land are expected to decrease," according to the study.

In 2015, Assam's state government began an eviction programme in response to a Gauhati High Court order, removing 600 households from the area surrounding Kaziranga National Park. Because of this eviction, the eco-sensitive zone around Kaziranga can expand and reclaim more forest. "After the eviction process, some of the agricultural lands will be converted into grassland, which is good news for the local ecosystem," it said.

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