Kaziranga lost 31 rhinos as 361 animals drown in 2017 floods
The Kaziranga national park in Assam lost 361 animals, including 31 rhinos, in floods that swamped the Unesco world heritage site in 2017.
In all, 401 animals were killed by floods and vehicle hits, mostly along national highway 37 that crisscrosses the 430-square-km park, which is home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos.
“Kaziranga lost a number of animals during the two incidences of recent floods,” environment minister Mahesh Sharma said in the Lok Sabha this winter session.
The death toll of rhinos is the highest for three years. But these deaths are from drowning in floodwaters, not from poachers’ bullets or poison.
According to official records till December 26 last year, eight rhinos were killed by poachers in Assam, which has three more parks with rhinos, though the numbers are far less than Kaziranga’s population.
Wildlife authorities have brought down the killing of this majestic animal prized for their horn that feeds a multi-million dollar clandestine international market for the ivory and its perceived aphrodisiac properties.
Rhinos in Kaziranga were relatively safe this year from poachers, but torrential rain triggered heavy flooding twice last year in the park straddling the Brahmaputra floodplains and Burha Pahar hills.
The park located 200km east of Guwahati lost nine elephants as the Brahmaputra breached its banks and inundated large tracts of the foothills.
The annual floods are important to rejuvenate the park’s unique eco-system of grassland, swamps and ponds that sustain a large population of rhinos, elephants, deer, wild buffaloes, tigers and leopards. But a devastating flood puts the animals in danger, like it did in 1988 when more than 1,000 animals perished.
Between 2002 and 2017, 130 rhinos have died in floods in Kaziranga, which has registered a steady rise in population of its one-horned centerpiece from 1,855 in 2006 to 2,401 in 2015.
The hog deer was the biggest casualty, with 282 dying in floods and 14 becoming road kill. The park also lost a tiger, 16 Sambar deer and eight buffalos to floods in 2017.