Kaziranga (Assam) : Speed limits were imposed on a national highway in northeastern India to prevent vehicles from hitting scores of wild animals fleeing the Kaziranga National Park to escape the rising flood waters.
Officials said the order prohibiting people from driving their vehicles above a speed limit of 40 km per hour along the national highway that surrounds the famous wildlife sanctuary in eastern Assam, home to the famous one-horned rhino, was enforced because scores of wild animals have started moving to highlands as the park was getting flooded.
"We have placed police and forest guards along the highway to restrict drivers from increasing their speed beyond a limit as animals from the park are crossing the highway," P.K. Talukdar, a magistrate, said.
In 2004, speeding trucks mowed down at least 50 animals while they were trying to cross the highway to escape floods.
In the past week, flash floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have displaced at least 200,000 people in Assam. The Brahmaputra river has been flowing above the danger level in at least 11 different places in the state.
"Floodwaters have entered some fringe areas inside the park. Already small herds of elephants have started moving out of the park by crossing the highway to take shelter in an adjoining hill," Dharanidhar Boro, a park ranger, told IANS.
The 430 sq km park, 220 km east of Assam's capital city of Guwahati, is home to the world's largest population of one-horned rhinoceros. There are an estimated 1,855 rhinos at Kaziranga out of a total world population of some 2,700 of this thick-skinned pachyderm.
Forest rangers say the trend of elephant herds moving to safer areas is a "strong indicator" that heavy flooding inside the park is imminent. "Elephants have very strong senses and can anticipate impending dangers," said Boro.
At least 70 animals, including rhinos and wild buffaloes, were drowned in the high floods in Kaziranga in 2003.
Park officials are also worried about poachers killing animals, especially rhinos and elephants, as they move from the sanctuary towards the hills to escape the floods.
"If there is a breach in the embankment that surrounds the park, floodwaters would submerge the entire Kaziranga and then there would mass exodus of animals to the hills," said Boro.
Every year, floods leave a trail of destruction, washing away villages, submerging paddy fields, drowning livestock and causing loss of human life and property, in Assam.