Guwahati: With the water level in the Brahmaputra and some of its tributaries rising, authorities at Assam's famed Kaziranga National Park - a Unesco World Heritage Site - have commenced their annual ritual of sounding an alert and taking precautionary measures to tackle the possibility of floods.
Park Director NK Vasu said the flood management plans were reviewed after the waters entered the park a few days ago. "The park gets flooded every year and this is very important from the ecological point of view. Floods are necessary as they wash away the unwanted weeds from the park," he said.
"However, we have put in place a flood management plan anticipating high floods like last year, when animals suffer and poachers also take advantage and kill rhinos inside the park," Vasu told IANS. The worst floods in memory had hit the national park last year, killing several hundred wild animals, including one-horned rhinos, elephants and many other species. Close to 500 hog deer also died during the floods.
The Kaziranga National Park, spread over an area of over 860 sq km, is famed for its one-horned rhino. According to a census carried out in March, there are 2,329 rhinos.
Vasu said new speedboats had been ordered to augment the existing ones. "We have seven speedboats and we have ordered more, which are expected to arrive soon. The existing speedboats, which were procured last year, have also been repaired," Vasu said.
There are over 150 anti-poaching camps inside the park, including four floating camps. A total of 1,200 staffers, including district forest officers, forest guards, home guards, boatmen and commandos of the elite Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) are currently deployed at the park. All the anti-poaching camps have been repaired for use by the mobile anti-poaching teams that will patrol the park 24X7 during the floods.
"We have to be on our toes during the floods as poachers take advantage of the situation and target animals, particularly the one-horned rhinos which stray out of the park during the high floods," the park director said.
"We have also repaired the highlands inside the park so that they can provide shelter to animals during floods," he said, adding that community awareness programmes have also been launched in villages located on the fringe areas to help distressed animals during the floods.
"We have asked the locals to help animals and inform the forest department if they find animals coming out of the park area," Vasu added.
"We have requested the district administrations of Golaghat and Nagaon districts to enforce Section 144, Cr.P.C. (that bars the assembly of more than five people), in the park area and to check speed limits of vehicles plying on NH 37 (that bifurcates the park). The animals normally cross NH 37 during floods seeking shelter in the highlands on the other side," Vasu said.
Apart from last year, the park had witnessed severe floods in 1988, 1998, 2004 and 2008. While 1,203 animals were lost in 1988, a total 652 animals died in the floods of 1998. No reliable figures are available for the other years.