Guwahati, June 29 (IANS): Forest officials in most rhino habitats in Assam have been working through the night to save wildlife severely affected after flood waters submerged vast areas of sanctuaries.
The flood season is crucial for the animals in protected areas as poachers take advantage of the situation to hunt, particularly the one-horned rhino for its high value in various Southeast Asian markets.
Officials in the famed Kaziranga National Park (KNP) told IANS that about 70 percent of the park falling in Assam's Golaghat district have been submerged by flood waters till Thursday. The waters have, however, started to recede since on Friday morning.
While the Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Morigaon district is completely submerged, at least 30 percent of the Manas National Park located in Barpeta district has been affected.
The Rajiv Gandhi National Park at Orang in Darrang district is also among the affected parks.
As per a census in April 2012, there were 2,290 one-horned rhinos in the KNP, besides thousands of other wildlife species spread over a park area of 860 sq km.
"Mobile patrolling using rubber boats have been intensified in all areas inside the park and all guards have been on duty round-the-clock to secure the lives of wild animals," said a senior park official. Wildlife NGOs and inhabitants of villages around the park have been aiding park authorities in their vigil.
"We have to be on our toes round-the-clock during the flood season as poachers often take advantage of the situation to poach," said a park official adding that there were no reports this year of any loss of wildlife or major infrastructure damage so far.
"Almost all 153 anti-poaching camps inside the national parks have been operating despite severe floods. Our forest guards are constantly guarding the park not only to prevent poaching but also to help marooned animals," the official said.
According to wildlife officials floods are very important for a park as it washes away unwanted weeds. "This time, however, the floods are unprecedented. While some animals have migrated to the neighbouring Karbi Hills by crossing the national highway 37 (NH 37) that bifurcates the park, some have taken shelter on higher ground inside," an official said.
Animals fleeing flood waters, however, are faced with another danger. Park officials pointed out that some animals have died after being hit by speeding vehicles while trying to cross the NH 37.
"Together with the district administration we are using time-cards along the park portion of NH 37 so as to limit vehicle speeds. Everyone has been asked to drive below 40 kmph while driving through the stretch, and violators have been fined."
"However it is difficult to monitor all the time and some accidents have taken place causing deaths of a few animals," said the official.