Rare one-horned rhino at risk as Indian flood waters rise

Indian one-horn rhinos take shelter from flood waters on higher land at Kaziranga National Park, about 250 kilometers east of Guwahati, on July 10, 2017.

Story highlights

  • Flooded park in northeastern India is home to 70% of species' population.
  • Four rhinos have died in the flooding so far.

New Delhi (CNN)Poachers are seeking to take advantage of widespread monsoon flooding in India's Kaziranga National Park as animals flee in search of higher ground.

Floods have consumed about 80% of the park's total area, said director Satyendra Singh. Kaziranga National Park is home to the vulnerable greater one-horned rhino, as well as tigers and Asian elephants.
    In the past, poachers have used the floods to flush animals out into areas where they are easier to hunt. The problem arises when the animals flee past the park's boundaries, said Singh, particularly in the southern most sections which are contiguous with hilly wild areas.
    The park, in India's Assam state, is known for its contribution in helping to save the greater one-horned rhino from the brink of extinction in the last 20 years.
    Indian one-horn rhinoceros take shelter from flood waters on higher land at Kaziranga National Park.
    Today more than 70% of the species' population is found in the park, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN),
    The greater one-horned rhino is currently listed as vulnerable, one rank above endangered, according to the IUCN. However, it remains at threat from poachers who value its horn.
    A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park made international headlines in 2016 after a visit by the UK's Prince William and Duchess Kate, in which the pair were pictured feeding a baby rhino.
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    In an effort to protect the animals, the park has added 150 armed police to its existing staff to patrol the border, said Singh.
    Assam state's wildlife minister, Pramila Rani Brahma, has also pushed for more resources to fight the threat of poachers, including purchasing more speedboats so that officials can get around during the flood.
    "I am trying my level best to stop the poachers. They're so skilled and so aggressive," said Brahma.
    When the rains come, villagers and police and volunteers come together to help patrol affected areas, she added, including the highways.
    "The numbers of animals being killed by poachers is decreasing (each year)," said Brahma.
    A herd of Indian hog deer swims through flood waters at Kaziranga National Park.
    Across the state, more than 1.5 million people have so far been affected by the floods, which has destroyed homes and wiped out crops.
    Three rhino calves and one adult rhino have already died in the flooding this year.
    Indian forest guard patroll on a boat A flooded area at Kaziranga National Park, about 250 kilometres east of Guwahati, on July 10, 2017
    During last year's monsoon-driven floods, 21 rhinos, including 10 calves aged between two and six months, drowned after becoming trapped.
    The deaths were considered a significant blow to the species' population, which was teetering at around 3,300 in the last IUCN count in 2013.