Six rare rhino calves are among the wildlife rescued in recent days from monsoon floods in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, northern India.
An expert team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has been responding to the emergency which has left many animals orphaned or injured and in need of life-saving care. Sadly, more than 300 animals are believed to have been killed by the floodwaters so far.
Although the area regularly experiences flooding during the annual monsoon season, the current flooding is the worst in a decade and has led to a major wildlife crisis.
Rescued animals are taken to the IFAW-WTI Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) in the park, where they receive vital veterinary treatment and round-the-clock care for as long as it is needed, before beginning the careful process of rehabilitation to prepare them for successful release back into the wild.
With almost 90% of the park currently affected by floodwaters, species including elephant, hog deer and rhino have all been desperately seeking the safety of higher ground but this often involves swimming through deep water which can cause stress and injury as well as leading some young animals to become separated from their mothers.
Among those rescued so far is a male rhino calf aged around three months, spotted alone as he attempted to swim across a flooded paddy field near a tea plantation.
After the IFAW-WTI mobile unit came to his aid, along with help from frontline staff from the Assam Forest Department, he was taken to the rescue centre for stabilisation and follow-up care.
Dr Panjit Basumatary, lead veterinarian at CWRC, said: ‘The calf is highly stressed. It has been separated from its mother and had to swim through flood waters. After two unsuccessful attempts, it is now responding to oral rehydration and milk formula. We have placed it under 24-hour observation in the Large Animal Nursery.’
This turned out to be the first of six rare rhino calves to arrive at the centre within the space of three exhaustingly busy days for the centre and its Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) units, which are currently deployed around the clock. Next to be admitted was a yearling female rhino rescued the same day by locals in Kaziranga’s Bagori Forest Range.
Two days later, four more rhino calves were rescued from floodwaters and admitted to the centre for care. Two were female calves found in separate incidents and another was rescued from the National Highway 37 near to the park. The final, and most dramatic rescue of the three days, involved a male rhino, aged approximately six months old, which was struggling in high waters.
Villagers bravely joined with IFAW-WTI staff to help. Local boats had to be lashed together with the calf placed on one, and people acting as a counterweight on the other, to transport the animal back through the flood waters and to the safety of the MVS vehicle. From there it was taken to the safety of the rescue centre for treatment.
IFAW-WTI MVS team vet Dr Shamshul Ali, who took part in the tense rescue operation, said: ‘This was a first of its kind rhino calf rescue in the present flood phase. We had to be very cautious with our handling of the animal, particularly during the boat journey.’
While these animals were the lucky ones, the rescues are continuing and many more animals still need help.
IFAW’s UK Director Philip Mansbridge said: ‘Having visited the IFAW-WTI centre at Kaziranga, I have witnessed first hand the vital service it provides in rescuing some of our most vulnerable species. Some of the animals which come through the centre, particularly rhinos and elephants, face a variety of risks, not just from the annual monsoons, but also from human-animal conflict, habitat loss and poaching.’
For more information about IFAW, click here.