High water raises hell in both the Rocky Mountains & below the Himalayas
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, U.S.A.; GUWAHATI, Assam, India––While unprecedentedly catastrophic flooding closed Yellowstone National Park for a week in mid-June 2022, also unprecedentedly severe monsoon flooding closed Manas National Park in Assam state, India, earlier and for longer.
Both Yellowstone National Park, famous for bison, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves, and Manas National Park, known for tigers, Asiatic rhinos, and elephants, are among the world’s most visited and most renowned wildlife-watching venues.
Yellowstone National Park, protected habitat since 1873, is 25 times larger than Manas National Park, protected habitat since 1928, but the damage to Manas and the downstream regions of India and Bangladesh likely afflicts 25 times more animals, both wild and domestic, and millions of humans too.
Farmed animals, work animals, street dogs, & pets
The flood-swollen Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, is more than 1,000 miles from Kansas City, the nearest downstream metropolis, home of about 2.2 million people.
Within about the same distance, the equally flood-swollen Manas River feeds the Brahmaputra river, winding around and sometimes through the homes of more than 130 million people, their farmed animals, their work animals, their street dogs, and their pets.
While the Yellowstone flooding caused no human deaths, the body count from the Manas and Brahmaputra flooding is so far 116, with many more human deaths likely to be discovered.
American news commentators, acutely aware of political resistance to recognizing global warming, especially in the right-leaning Rocky Mountain states surrounding Yellowstone, have been conspicuously reluctant to assign a cause to the Yellowstone River flooding more specific than just unusually heavy rainfall, melting the last of the winter snow in the mountains above Yellowstone.
Commentators in India and Bangladesh have had no such reluctance, especially since the loss of glacial ice in recent decades from the Himalayas, source of the Manas and Brahmaputra rivers, is starkly obvious. The mean regional temperature is up half a degree Celsius in just the past decade, a conspicuous increase in an already hot part of the world.
The first visible effect of the Yellowstone flooding on animal life, reported AccuWeather staff writer Thomas Leffler on June 22, 2022, was the temporary closure of the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana, described by Leffler as “where numerous animals such as foxes, coyotes and black bears that can no longer live on their own in the wild are taken in and cared for in a safer environment.
“Sanctuary is the one needing rescue”
“Now, the sanctuary itself is the one needing rescue,” Leffler said, “after a historic flooding event at Yellowstone National Park this past week temporarily caused the closure of all entrances. This includes the northeast entrance, the road to which is where Red Lodge lies.
“The Yellowstone area received four times the normal amount of rainfall since the beginning of June,” Leffler explained, “with one month’s worth of rain falling on June 12, 2022. By the next day, the situation had become severe enough that some 10,000 people were forced to evacuate the park.”
Noted Robyn White of Newsweek, “Yellowstone is home to 67 species of mammal,” including about 100 wolves, 700 black bears and grizzly bears, and 2,300 to 5,500 bison.
Biologist says Yellowstone animals can handle flooding
But U.S. National Park Service biologist Doug Smith reassured Cowboy State Daily editor Ellen Fike and Benji Jones of Vox.com that almost none of the Yellowstone animals would be affected by the flooding in any negative way, despite destruction of roads, bridges, and human accommodations from one end of the park to the other.
“Smith said that predators’ offspring,” such as bear cubs and wolf pups, “are at least a few months old by this time of year, so they are less vulnerable to flooding,” Fike wrote.
“Ungulates such as bison will likely experience some accidents,” Fike added, “but Smith said high water is a challenge for those animals every year.“Smith also said some of the animals whom wolves and bears eat, like elk, moose and deer, are also probably doing fine, and that they could even benefit from the flood because the influx of water gives the plants they eat a boost.”
Landslide areas, Smith said, “will be easy for them to avoid, and most are mature enough to move away. “There will be some accidents for an animal trying to cross a swollen stream, but this will be like any other year when waterways are in flood stage.”
Waterbirds, Smith mentioned, “have strategies to withstand floods, such as adding material to their nests to build them up and keep eggs dry,” Fike summarized.
But “Waterbirds may have trouble with reproduction due to nest flooding,” Smith predicted.
“We are monitoring trumpeter swans,” Smith said, “which have begun nesting, and common loons, which are starting or have started, and nesting pelicans and cormorants, as the one colony in the park is likely underwater. We check it aerially and have not done so yet, but it could be complete reproductive failure.
“Ospreys may be severely impacted as they depend almost entirely on fish,” Smith continued. “They may have difficulty finding fish with such high water levels and murky, muddy water. Fish researchers have said many trout may get blown out.”
Eagles & bison
Bald eagles, by comparison, will likely not be impacted, Smith said, since eagles have a relatively diverse diet.
“Wet, cold weather can affect other nesting raptors like golden eagles and peregrine falcons,” Smith offered. “We plan to monitor their nesting activities once access is safe.”
Bison were videotaped hiking away from floodwaters along the empty Yellowstone roads, but road use was a matter of convenience, since bison thrived in Yellowstone long before humans visited.
The anticipated drop in Yellowstone visitor traffic due to flood damage is expected to benefit the wildlife by reducing the stress on the animals created by the constant human presence.
Nearly a million humans visited Yellowstone in June 2021 alone.
18 million hoofed animals in need of help
Meanwhile, 7,358 miles to the east, in Guwahati, the capital of Assam state, India, veterinarian Smriti R. Dutta of the animal charity Just Be Friendly emailed to ANIMALS 24-7 that the floods inundating Manas National Park had hit 32 of the 35 administrative districts of Assam, pushing more than two million people into 836 relief camps.
More than three million people were affected by the flooding, Dutta said, with nearly 18 million livestock animals in need of help, according to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority.
“Humans being the first priority during disaster,” Dutta wrote, “the domesticated animals were left behind,” among them more than eight million large animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats, 3.8 million smaller animals including dogs and cats, and about 5.7 million poultry.
“Cannot expand our support on scale we would like to”
“These animals don’t have access to food and clean water,” Dutta said, “as they are dependent on their owners. They could face acute shortages of food even after the flood situation is mitigated.
“Moreover, they also suffer from hoof problems, parasitic infestation, bacterial diseases, bloating, enteritis, debility, and so on,” caused by the flooding and post-flooding conditions.
“Just Be Friendly every year has been providing relief to those animals affected by monsoon flooding,” Dutta continued. “But due to lack of funds we cannot expand our support on the scale we would like to.”
(See Monsoon floods threaten animals below the Himalayas.)
Smriti appealed for help via https://jbfsociety.org/donate/.