The worst floods in over a decade in Assam have claimed over 34 lives and displaced over 11 lakh people, with rescue and ehabilitation efforts underway. At the time of writing, Kaziranga National Park is trending on Twitter, as reports emerge that almost the entire park is inundated. Over 200 animals including 27 rhinos have been killed in the deluge, with the numbers likely to rise.
Heartbreaking images of animals struggling to make it to higher lands have gripped social media. The annual flooding in the national park is actually essential to recreating its vast greenland ecosystem, but heavier than usual rainfall this year has led to an environmental crisis.
Amidst all the destruction, stories of human achievements are coming ahead. Most impressive is the story of villagers who themselves have lost belongings and loved ones in the floods, but are still coming together day after day to rescue stranded wildlife.
The Wildlife Trust of India has shared some of these rescue stories on their website. The WTI is working alongside the Assam Forest Department (AFD) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in the national park. The three organisations together run the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC).
One of the rescues involved an out of line male rhino calf. The calf, which has gone away from its mother, was seen struggling to swim across an inundated paddy field opposite Hathikuli Tea Garden under the Central Forest Range of Kaziranga National Park. The forest guards rescued it and shifted by boat to the backyard of a house in a nearby upland area.
In response to an emergency call, an MVS team led by WTI Deputy Director Dr Rathin Barman and veterinarian Dr Samshul Ali reached the spot and transported the calf to CWRC for stabilisation and care.
“The calf is highly stressed. It has been separated from its mother and had to swim through flood waters”, said Dr Panjit Basumatary, the lead veterinarian at CWRC. “After two unsuccessful attempts it is now responding to oral rehydration and milk formula. We have placed it under 24-hour observation in the Large Animal Nursery.”
Kaziranga National Park, located on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River, one of India's UNESCO world heritage sites, actually benefits from the annual monsoon floods, which serve to recharge its vast grassland ecosystem.
However, the park is facing a major wildlife crisis this year as large portions of its area have been completely inundated in what are being described as the worst floods in a decade.”
On July 26, following the rescue of a three-month-old male rhino calf, a tiny female rhino was rescued the same day by locals in the Sildubi area of Karinga's Bagori Forest Range, and brought to CWRC by a Mobile Veterinary Service team with the assistance of frontline forest staff.
The next day, four rhino calves were successfully rescued from the floods and admitted to CWRC for further care. These included two female calves found in separate rescue incidents, again in the upland areas of Sildubi in the Bagori Range.
Another female rhino calf, nearly six months old, was rescued by a joint WTI-JTEF-IFAW MVS team led by veterinarian Dr Daoharu Baro from National Highway 37 late in the evening. “We were monitoring the animal since early morning when it reached near the highway. There was no scope to rescue it, however, due to the high water level. Finally, in the evening, we were able to give it the space it needed to come out to a safer place near the highway”, Dr Baro said. Crowd management was a major challenge on NH37 during the rescue and the DFO of Kaziranga had to step in to personally lead the operation, with the support of Assam Police, CRPF and VDP personnel.
The most exciting rescue of the day took place in the afternoon at Diphalu Pathar Dergayan Gaon, a flood-affected village.
Earlier that morning a villager had spotted a male rhino calf, approximately six months old, trying desperately to find higher ground in the flood waters. He informed Pramod Gogoi, Chief General Secretary of the Kaziranga Natural Environment Education & Cultural Association (KNEECA) and other villagers, and together they chalked out a plan to save the rhino. “All households here have their own boats since the area is flood prone”, Mr Gogoi said. “We somehow managed to drag the calf and tie it to a tree in front of a house. It only had a small space to stand but it was safe from the flood waters for the time being. We also informed the Kaziranga DFO’s office and through them, the CWRC rescue team.”
An IFAW-WTI MVS team – veterinarian Dr Samshul Ali accompanied by animal keepers Lakhiram Das and Ramen Das – reached the spot having navigated through inundated villages on two country boats. The boats were lashed together and the calf placed on one, with people acting as a counterweight on the other boat. The journey back was precarious to say the least, but the animal was successfully transported through the flood waters back to the MVS vehicle.