Major Flood in India Kills Endangered Rhinos
The northeastern Indian State of Assam was plagued with floods that took the lives of 121 people, killed 600 animals from the Kaziranga National Park and affected 627,000 acres of rice fields and other crops. Millions of people were displaced from their homes and were left with nowhere to go, which added to the devastation. This event marked one of the worst floods that Assam has seen since 1998.
The news of human lives lost is devastating and it’s highly unfortunate that hundreds of animals perished in the disaster. It all started on June 22nd when the first rain began to pour down. Within minutes, 80 percent of the land was submerged leaving animals helpless and unable to escape. “Most of the animals either drowned or were mown down by speeding vehicles when they tried to flee the heavy flooding,” said S K Bora, director of the Kaziranga National Park. Even though water levels have receded, all the animals that fled the park have still yet to return.
The highest mortality from the floods was that of hog deer at 512, followed by wild boars, rhinos, sambhars, elephants, and swamp deer. The erratic monsoons and bursting riverbanks also killed 14 highly endangered one-horned rhinos. The species, once near extinction in the 1900’s, are a big target for poachers who slaughter the animals for their horns and leave them to suffer and die. They are also threatened by habitat loss from changing climates and manmade destruction, also contributing to their low population numbers today. Despite their comeback from a century ago, the survival rate of such small populations is doubtful.
Assam Forests Minister Rockybul Hussain showed concern over rhinos that fled the protective ring of the park making them more vulnerable to attackers. “Poachers become active during floods. They target rhinos that stray into fringe areas for shelter. We’ve intensified patrolling in such areas”, a Kaziranga park official said.
The Park has continuously fought to protect rhinos in the past and have taken extra safety precautions since the flood. “We’ve set up 10 additional anti-poaching camps to protect the rhinos…we’ve brought in about 100 additional guards from other forest divisions to stop possible poaching of the fleeing animals,” a divisional forest officer added. However, despite their efforts, two rhinos were killed by poachers last week.
The state of Assam contains a special significant hotspot of biodiversity located on the Eastern edge of the Himalayas. It combines high species diversity and visibility and is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of one-horned rhinos. In addition, it boasts the highest density of tigers among all protected areas in the world- who all managed to escape the chaos that frightful day.
However, India may not have seen the worst of it yet. A series of floods could be taking place in weeks to come. State Government officials demanded funding to add to the 449 embankments across Assam. Learning from history, the state realizes that the probability of fresh floods coming through depends on the strength of the existing embankments. Their hope is to receive the assistance they need to avert further disaster.
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