A worker of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) in Assam went beyond his work brief of saving flood-affected animals to rescue three boys from drowning in the Brahmaputra.
Several waves of floods since May 22 have so far killed 89 persons, 120 animals of KNPTR and 15 domesticated animals besides affecting more than 55 lakh people in Assam.
Bidyut Bikash Borah, the range officer of KNPTR’s Agratoli Range, said speedboat operator Bolin Bora had on May 19 rescued the three boys clinging desperately to a piece of driftwood. The trio had been swept from Biswanath district on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra upstream.
Agratoli is the easternmost of 1,055 sq km KNPTR’s four ranges on the Brahmaputra’s southern bank. The river divides the one-horned rhino domain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, unequally between these four ranges and the Biswanath Range on the other bank.
“The guards on the ceiling of the inundated Maklung anti-poaching camp adjoining the river spotted three heads trying to stay above water and cries for help. The current of the river was too strong for them to get to them in a country boat,” the range officer told The Hindu .
Most of KNPTR’s 223 anti-poaching camps have a country boat tied nearby for emergency operations.
Mr. Bora, 40, sped off as soon as he received the message and hauled the three teenagers onto a speedboat.
The three boys — brothers Mahan Jyoti and Joyguru Kutum and Sankar Medhi from Raonmukh village in Biswanath district — said they had ventured out in a country boat to collect grass near the riverbank. The boat, caught in a strong current and wind, overturned.
“The boys had drifted for three hours before they could be rescued,” Mr. Bora said.
The range officer said the three boys were handed over to their relatives at Bokakhat in Golaghat district as it was too late for them to return to Biswanath that day.
KNPTR has eight speedboats, mostly operated by casual workers from the flood-prone Majuli upstream of the Brahmaputra. Mr. Bora is from Majuli, whose residents are considered experts in negotiating obstacles in flooded or shallow rivers and channels.
Senior officials said KNPTR needs 3,000 people in eight-hour shifts for better protection of its flora and fauna. The park’s staff strength is 1,605 and 316 of them are low-paid casual workers who often end up being on call 24 hours, especially during floods.
“One has to see our frontline workers in action to know how dedicated they are in protecting Kaziranga’s core and fringes,” KNPTR’s Director P. Sivakumar said, adding that the staff have saved 147 animals so far.
While 90% of KNPTR was submerged, the number of flood-affected persons increased by 2.12 lakh to 26.31 lakh across 26 districts overnight.
“Two people drowned on Wednesday to take the toll to 89 with another 26 killed in landslides since May 22. Fifteen domestic animals have also been washed away,” an Assam State Disaster Management Authority spokesperson said.
The number of people across 281 relief camps also increased to 45,281.