Since the late 1990s, KK Dwivedi, former Commissioner and Secretary of Environment and Forest in Assam, has visited Kaziranga National Park over a hundred times. Yet, nothing prepared him for what he would witness during the 2017 floods — the worst Assam had seen since 1988. “You could see only water till the horizon, there was no land in sight,” he says. “Animals, afraid and desperate, were behaving most unexpectedly — we saw a monitor lizard feeding on a carcass of a wild water buffalo. We saw a rhino, usually a solitary animal, huddled with a herd of wild water buffaloes on a tiny island. I have never seen anything like it.”
Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for hosting the world’s largest population of greater one-horned rhinos, lies in the floodplains of the river Brahmaputra. Every monsoon the river overflows and submerges approximately two-thirds (66 per cent) of the park. However, the flood of 2017 inundated over 85 per cent of the park, testing the survival skills of its animals and killing over 350 of them.
While the park remained closed to visitors and the media, Dwivedi, who was responsible for monitoring the situation, had complete access. He lugged his camera on most supervision trips and rescue operations, traveling to the worst-affected areas, and shooting from narrow, rocking speedboats, often in torrential rain. “Rhinos, tigers, elephants, and reptiles were swimming all around our boats, and we had very little protection,” he says. The images he shares here, offer an extremely rare glimpse of what the park looks like in the face of its worst adversity.