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SOS Rhino : In the News : Wild animals flee northeastern Indian sanctuary amid rising waters

Wild animals flee northeastern Indian sanctuary amid rising waters


KAZIRANGA, India (AFP) Jul 06, 2003

Floods in northeastern India's Assam state have forced elephants, tigers and other wild animals from the renowned Kaziranga sanctuary to seek safety on higher ground at nearby farms and highways.

" Over the last few days, at least 150 to 200 elephants have migrated to nearby hills due to the floods in Kaziranga," Kaziranga sanctuary warden N.V. Vasu told AFP.

On Friday a herd of 64 elephants blocked a highway that criss-crosses the sanctuary, which is on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra river, and took a leisurely stroll before disappearing into the thick jungles on the other side, he said.

" Our forest guards patrolling the highway had blocked traffic on either side of the highway to allow the elephants to cross the road to prevent the animals from being hit by speeding vehicles," the warden said.

At another spot a majestic tiger blocked another portion of the highway for 15 minutes.

" The tiger was relaxing on the highway and it was indeed a treat for people who stopped their vehicles before the big cat vanished into the thick undergrowth," a roadside hotelier said.

" Animals like wild boars and deer have been straying into human settlements in the fringe areas of the park with the floodwaters increasing day-by-day," he said.

The Brahmaputra has been swollen by heavy monsoon rains that have been falling since last month, and has flooded into Kaziranga, which houses the world's largest population of one-horned rhino and a big group of Asiatic elephants.

The floods have claimed the lives of a rhino and a buffalo, according to Kaziranga authorities, while two hog deer and a python were killed by speeding vehicles as they were trying to cross the highway to escape the rising waters.

" We have imposed prohibitory orders asking truckers to drive slowly as they pass the highway that runs along the park," Vasu said.

At least 70 animals, including rhinos and wild buffaloes, were drowned in floods inside the sanctuary last year, while speeding vehicles mowed down 32 animals on the highway.

This year's floods have also exacted a human toll. Since June 27, at least 13 people have drowned or been buried by mudslides in the three northeastern states of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya, officials said.

An Assam government statement said Sunday 19 of the states 24 districts were hit by the floods affecting some 916,453 people.

The migration of the animals has sometimes brought them into conflict with villagers, who try to chase them away with noisy firecrackers, fire and loud drums, residents of the area said.

At a tea garden in Karbi Anglong hills, close to the sanctuary, a group of elephants was found enjoying home-brewed rice beer straight out of casks.

" We now fear that the Kaziranga elephants would make it a habit to enter our colony as they have got the taste of rice beer," said a worker at the tea garden, Madhu Ram.

" It was a sight to be seen to find the four elephants enjoying the drink. The elephants sipped to its last drop before smashing the earthen cask in which the beer was brewed," Ram said.

All rights reserved. © 2002 Agence France-Presse.

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