Jorhat (Assam)/New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) Nearly 250 animals, including at least 20 one-horned rhinos, have died in the heavy floods in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park even as foresters managed to rescue over 200 animals, including nine rhino calves, officials said on Monday.
The death toll in the World Heritage Site, after river Brahmaputra unleashed its flood fury, was said to be 242 on Monday.
“Among the dead rhinos, most were calves. Forest teams managed to rescue at least nine rhinos, 90 Hog Deer, one Jungle Owlet, three Swamp deer, one Fishing Cat and one python,” Subhasis Das, Divisional Forest Officer, Kaziranga told IANS on phone.
He added that the animals were rescued using boats, some manually and some with the help of tranquilisers.
“No tiger deaths have been reported so far, nor have we found any tiger carcasses. Some tigers have reportedly moved towards human habitations,” an official told IANS.
The dead animals included 20 rhinos, 185 Hog Deer, nine Swamp Deer, four Wild Buffalo, 12 Wild Boar, two Hog Badger, a Pelican, six Sambar deer, two porcupines and a python.
However, officials said it was not only the floods that accounted for the death of animals.
Fourteen Hog Deer died after being hit by vehicles on National Highway-37, while eight animals, including four rhinos and a Hog Badger, are said to have died due to natural causes.
Of those rescued, many, including one rhino and 60 Hog Deer, have been released back in the wild, officials said.
Over 70 elevated platforms — or man-made highlands — in the park also helped save many animals. However not all the elevated platforms could withstand this year’s floods.
“We are planning to get more of these highlands in the park,” Das said.
Officials said the floods had begun to abate now, but their next fear is “fodder scarcity” that would push the animals to southern Kaziranga in search of food.
“The floods are followed by fodder scarcity for some time, then animals start moving towards the Karbi-Anglong Hills situated at the southern part of the forest,” Das said.
He added that since the southern boundary of the national highway is at a height, animals often move to take shelter there during floods. This also invites poachers.
“We have our teams there, we have many camps there and our guards will continue monitoring to keep poachers away,” an official said.
Das along with a team of Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) has been spending sleepless nights to save the Kaziranga animals. He said they expect another round of floods in September.
Das said that while the floods do kill some animals, they are also a “boon” as they help keep the park fodder-rich and charge the water bodies.
“Every year, floods take over Kaziranga, but this year they have been aggressive,” said O.P. Pandey, former Wildlife Warden of Assam.
Kaziranga National Park is regarded as the abode of the greater one-horned rhinoceros. Kaziranga has a total of 2,401 rhinos as of 2015. Other places in India where they are found include Uttar Pradesh’s Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (30 rhinos) and West Bengal’s forests (229).
(Kushagra Dixit can be contacted at [email protected])