Authorities in Assam have enforced speed regulations on a highway along the famed Kaziranga National Park to prevent vehicles from hitting animals fleeing the sanctuary to escape a flood, officials said here on Monday. Kaziranga is the world’s largest sanctuary of the endangered one-horned rhino.

The officials said the order prohibiting people from driving their vehicles above 40 km per hour along the national highway that passes by the Kaziranga National Park in eastern Assam was enforced on Sunday because scores of wild animals have started moving to highlands as the sanctuary is 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,” park ranger Dharanidhar Boro told IANS.

In 2004, speeding trucks mowed down at least 50 animals while they were trying to cross the highway to escape floods.

In the past one week, flash floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have displaced at least 3,00,000 people in Assam. The Brahmaputra has been flowing above the danger mark in at least eight 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,” Mr. Boro said.

The 430 sq. km park, 220 km east of Assam’s main city Guwahati, is home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceros. There are an estimated 2,048 rhinos at Kaziranga out of a total world population of some 2,700 of this 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,” the park ranger said.

At least 70 animals, including rhinos and wild buffaloes, were drowned during a flood 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 Mr. Boro.

Every year, floods leave a trail of destruction in Assam, washing away villages, submerging paddy fields, drowning livestock and causing loss of human life and property.

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