Geneva, 18 September -- The conservation organization, WWF, today announced it was providing financial assistance from its Tiger Emergency Fund for rescue and recovery work in flood-stricken Kaziranga National Park in Indias northeastern state of Assam. WWF has already rushed essential equipment to the site. The park is home to about 80 per cent of Indias 1,500 Asian one-horned rhinoceros and to about 80 tigers.
The flooding, which peaked on 4-7 September, has caused considerable hardship to some 130 village communities on the parks fringes, and has contributed to the loss of wildlife, including 31 one-horned rhinos.
According to latest reports from WWFs Tiger Conservation Programme (TCP) in India, 20 endangered wild buffalo, 419 hog deer, 6 elephants, and eight swamp deer have also drowned. Villagers crops have been destroyed by the floods as well as by straying animals. And bridges, guards camps, and roads within the park have suffered large-scale damage.
WWF is in constant contact with the park's director and other staff on the ground to establish what support they need, and is helping them in this very difficult situation, said Dr MK Ranjitsinh, Director of the TCP.
The TCP has already sent urgently-needed equipment including wireless sets, mobile and hand held phones, night vision binoculars, a mini truck and funds for the purchase of boats -- practically the only means of transport in the park during the rainy season. In addition, 30 boats repaired recently thanks to the foresight and timely intervention of the TCP, are proving invaluable in rescue and relief efforts. It has also arranged to provide a tranquilizer gun to sedate and transport marooned animals.
As the flood waters begin to recede, an active network of non-governmental organizations, including WWF, is working closely with park and government authorities to provide assistance to the local population living in and around the park and to care for strayed and wounded animals. Park authorities are just beginning to take stock of the actual number of dead animals.
Five rhinos were killed by poachers at the height of the crisis, and The Tiger Emergency Fund should help reinforce the park guards' anti-poaching activities for rhinos, tigers and other threatened wildlife, said Elizabeth Kemf, WWF's Species Policy Information Officer. Although an entire herd of swamp deer was seen being swept away, forest staff and local people rescued 41 hog deer, two swamp deer and a rhino and elephant calf. A major concern now is to protect villagers from animals that have wandered into their settlements and to return those animals to the park, added Ms Kemf.
The casualties from poaching would have been much worse, but for the round-the-clock vigil mounted by the park staff, said Dr AK Goswami, special representative of WWF-India based in the region, who visited the area for an immediate assessment.
About 700 field staff live in about 130 field camps in the park, half of which have been destroyed. WWFs TCP aims to help repair these camps and restore infrastructure after an assessment is made of the full extent of the damage, said Ranjitsinh.
The Chief Minister of Assam has appealed for funds, food and equipment to help deal with this unprecedented crisis. The Union Ministry for Environment and Forests is understood to have sanctioned emergency funds for immediate use by the state government of Assam. In addition, the Ministry is also considering the release of UNESCO funds to Assam.
Flooding in this 430km2 park is normal, and even contributes to the lush vegetation of the park. However, the scale of floods this year is the worst this decade, due largely to severe deforestation in the catchment area of the Brahmaputra river and to water logging due to prolonged rain.
For more information, please contact Elizabeth Kemf at: tel: +41 22 3649 424, e:mail: firstname.lastname@example.org