GUWAHATI: The COVID-19 pandemic, the resultant economic fallout and the ensuing restrictions could not foil the spirit of around two lakh tourists, including 570 foreigners, from visiting the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNP & TR) in Assam.
The Director of the UNESCO world heritage site, Karmashree P. Sivakumar, said that since the park-cum-tiger reserve was reopened on October 21 last year, as many as 1,98,595 tourists, including 570 foreign nationals, have visited KNP & TR in the six months till April 21.
"Around 1.74 lakh tourists, including 11,595 foreigners, had visited the park during the corresponding period of 2019-20. Thousands of more tourists are expected to visit Kaziranga before it is closed ahead of the monsoon," Sivakumar said.
The park-cum-tiger reserve was closed for three months last year due to the pandemic – from March to May – before the annual floods inundated around 95 per cent of the 1,302 sq km area of KNP & TR for four months (June to September).
The authorities of KNP & TR, extending across five districts of Assam – Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong – along the Arunachal Pradesh border, earn Rs 5 crore on an average each season.
Earlier this month, the officials had successfully translocated three rhino calves, two females and one male, which were rescued two years ago during the floods, to the Manas Tiger Reserve (MTR) in western Assam.
Like previous years, the floods in Assam badly hit the KNP & TR between June and September last year, with 18 rhinos and 135 other wild animals dying due to the deluge.
Sivakumar said that 172 wild animals were rescued from the flood waters last year.
In 2019, 263 animals, including many endangered rhinos, were killed in the floods while 169 animals were rescued.
"Maximum efforts are being made, including construction of highland, to take care of the animals in the national park during the floods and other calamities," Sivakumar said.
Set up in 1908, the KNP & TR is one of India's seven UNESCO world heritage sites in the natural and environment category since 1985. It is home to more than 2,400 Indian rhinoceros. Besides rhinos, the KNP & TR has 121 tigers, 1,089 elephants and large numbers of Asiatic buffalo, swamp deer, wild boar, hog deer, porcupine and other endangered animals and reptiles.
Renowned environmentalist and wildlife expert Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar said that KNP & TR is a natural wonder and a great treasure of the planet.
"People from all over the world give utmost importance to this universal property of mother earth. Kaziranga not only protects rich biodiversity and diverse wildlife, but it also carries the identity of the Assamese people and their culture. It must be well protected for future generations and preservation of nature and wildlife," Lahkar said. (IANS)