Every year as the annual floods hit Assam, the plight of wild animals of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) also hit the headlines with the focus on the number of fatalities.
Apart from the deaths caused by flooding and vehicle hit while the animals cross the national highway adjoining the park to reach higher locations, dozens of residents of the park spread across 430 sq km are rescued by teams of forest personnel and wildlife veterinarians.
“This year, six teams that include forest personnel and veterinarians were involved in rescuing animals during the floods. The size of the team depends on the size of the animal needed to be rescued. For a tiger rescue, as many as 100 people or more are involved,” said P Sivakumar, director, KNPTR.
This year, 172 animals including 3 rhinos, 4 tigers, 120 hog deer, 31 pythons and 4 king cobras have been rescued from in and around the park during floods. The season had witnessed 150 animal deaths including 18 rhinos (12 due to drowning) and 105 hog deer.
Floodwaters have started receding in the park, the biggest habitat of endangered one-horned rhinos, and at present nearly 50 percent of its area is submerged. But work hasn’t stopped for the rescue teams.
On Sunday, a 3-4 days old female rhino calf, which got separated from its mother, was rescued from the park’s central range.
It is being treated at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), the only facility of its kind in India where orphaned or injured wild animals are hand-raised or treated before returning them to the wild.
“The calf is distressed and dehydrated and we are trying to feed it milk formula. Since it’s very small, its health is critical. Efforts are underway to locate the mother and reunite the calf with her,” said Rathin Barman, in-charge of CWRC.
This is the second rhino calf rescued during this year during floods. Both the animals, including the five calves rescued during last year’s floods, are staying at CWRC’s facility located at Borjuri close to KNPTR.
Till date, of the 172 animals rescued during this year’s floods, 149 have been treated and released back into the wild while 17 had died on arrival or during treatment. Six animals including 2 rhinos, 3 hog deer and a king cobra are still under treatment.
“Rescuing a wild animal always involves some risks as it not used to human presence. Some of us have got injured as well during rescues. Once the animal comes out of the park, chances of it getting injured increases and there’s the issue of crowd management as well,” said Panjit Basumataray, wildlife veterinarian at CWRC.
Officials of KNPTR and CWRC informed that this year, the number of rescues have been less than previous floods due to awareness campaign among villagers living on the park’s periphery on allowing animals that stray out of the park to reach higher locations or return to the park on their own.