Forest department officials have started vaccinating rhinos and captive elephants against anthrax and are keeping watch on the movement of animals after the death of five Asiatic one-horned rhinos over four days at the Jaldapara National Park in Jalpaiguri district.
Samples of the dead animals have been sent to state and national veterinary laboratories and results are awaited.
“We have been advised towards vaccination against anthrax and we have started it. We are not taking any chances,” said Ravi Kant Sinha, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.
“Postmortem has been done and samples have been sent to labs in Bareilly and Kolkata. We are waiting for reports… We have taken steps to fence parts of the national park so that domesticated animals cannot get in. We have also asked villagers not to take their animals to the park for grazing. Heavy patrolling is on and we are keeping watch on all animals,” said state Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee.
Drones are being used and forest guards mounted on trained elephants have been patrolling the jungle to check for sick or dead animals.
Ujjal Ghosh, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife, North), said, “Our staff is on high alert. We have started vaccinating rhinos against Anthrax within 1 km radius of where the carcasses were found. We have also started vaccinating captive trained elephants which are used for patrolling. Awareness campaigns among villagers near the national park are also being conducted.”
Forest officials spotted the carcass of a female rhino on February 18 at Malangi and three more bodies of female rhinos were found at Sisamara over the next three days. Another rhino died during this period as it was unwell. The vaccination process began on February 22.
“We think it is a communicable disease which has caused the deaths and we are taking no chances. We do not want it to spread to other wild animals and to domestic animals in surrounding villages,” said an officer of the state forest department.
Jaldapara National Park, situated in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas in Alipurduar subdivision in north Bengal, is spread over an area of 141 sq km and has the one-horned rhino as its main attraction. There are over 280 rhinos in West Bengal and nearly 250 of them are in Jaldapara. In 1986, there were only 20 rhinos in the state.