How the Indian army saved the Rhinos
Located in the easternmost corner of India lies the Kaziranga National Park, a vast swampy grassland vatered by the flood waters of the mighty Brahmaputra and other lesser atreams. It is the most famous habitat in the world of the Great One Horned Indian Rhinoceros; only about 1000 survive.
The Brahmaputra sometimes misbehaves when in flood, as it did in 1998. This snow and rain-fed river caused a mind-boggling havoc when it spewed its venom into Kaziranga. The water level rose as high as eight feet making it virtually impossible for these endangered species to survive. It caused the deaths of 31 Phinos, 5 Asian Elephants, 20 Wild Buffalo and as many as 520 ungulates. Only elephants could survive the wrath of the flood.
To eacape from being drowned, many Rhinos and other species strayed on to the National Highway and were killed by trucks plying on it. The infrastructure damage caused was substantial. As many as 68 elevated earth platforms on which these denizens of Kaziranga could take refuge were scoured, four earthern tracks used by the Park service were nearly obliterated and the timber bridges were weakned. The process of repair and rehabilitation of this major catastrophe, was clearly beyond the capabilities of the State Government, the Park Authorities and the Forest Department. This is where the Indian Army stepped in. The indian Army's 4 Corps is located at Tezpur. It has been deployed in this easternmost part of India since World War II and is therefore au fait with the problems thrown up by nature's fury in this remote part of the country so endowed by nature. The erstwhile Corps Commander Lieutenant General Vij. like the Army Chief General Ved Malik, is a conservation activist. The Army Chief considers the degradation of nature as "the enemy within". Based on damage inputs to this National Park, received through personal observations, and from various Government agencies and NGOs, 4 Corps decided to do what it does best based on its infrastructure: to construct ten "High Grounds", each 100 metres long, 4 metres high and 4 metres in wide. This would provide a safe and easily accessible elevated platform for the shorter animals found in Kaziranga, especially the endangered Rhino.
This Herculean task would involve 30,000 cubic metres of earth-work, deployment of 8 bull dozers and two excavators, and 300 Sappers over a period of 46 mandays. In actual terms it would have cost Rs. 2 crores but this hurdle would be overcome by converting the project into training. The task was allotted to 7 Engineer Regiment of the famous Madras Sappers and miners with a record second to none during World Wars I and II. The area selected for these 10 High Grounds was the First Addition. But this was not all. Realising the beauty of this National Park, and to enable troops, locals and tourists to enjoy viewing the wide range of species, 4 Corps constructed an attractive and unobstructed view point based on the cantilever principle, just off NH 37. Thanks to army's timely intervention, a lot of wildlife was saved. Because of its continuing concern for the country's wildlife the army is also making efforts to improve the monitoring capabilities of the Park Rangers and Forest Guards by providing them with much-needed transportation, binoculars, inter communications like walkie-talkies /Wireless sets, and effective fire arms to prevent poaching.
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