Dhrubajit Barman, a guard at Kaziranga National Park, has spent sleepless nights for almost a week. “I have been mostly on a boat through the week because over 85 per cent of the park had gone under water. We have to keep our eyes and ears open in all directions. You never know when a poacher will sneak in and take advantage of the rhinos caught in floods,” said Barman.
Barman, among 1,200 personnel on round-the-clock duty because of floods, and six others spent 12 hours patrolling before returning to their temporary camp on an elevated platform on Monday even as water levels have come down. Their permanent camp is submerged.
“We have to be on round-the-clock alert because the animals are moving in various directions in search of highlands,” Barman said. Water levels of the Brahmaputra, which cuts through the 858-sq km park, have remained above the danger mark since Friday, forcing hundreds of rhinos, buffaloes, tigers, elephants, swamp deer and hog deer to flee to highlands.
Divisional forest officer Rohini Ballav Saikia said that the animals faced double trouble. “On one hand are swift currents of the flood waters, which tend to wash away older animals and the newborn, poachers too are trying to take advantage of the helpless animals, more particularly the one-horned rhinos.’’
Only about 28 per cent of the park is under water now. But authorities face two more problems. “While fodder is unavailable as grasslands have been either under water or slush, the old and very young animals run the risk of getting stuck in the mud,” Saikia said.
One rhino was found stuck in mud scared of getting back to its natural habitat. Last week, 140 of the 178 anti-poaching camps had gone under water. Saikia said eight camps had to be abandoned as they had been submerged with water levels rising to about 11 feet. About 100 police personnel have been deployed to provide support to the guards.