GAUHATI, ASSAM // Veterinarians struggled yesterday to save the life of a rare rhinoceros that was shot and had its horn cut off by poachers after it wandered out of a flooded national park in north-eastern India.
The attack on the one-horned rhino sparked outrage in Assam state, home to the world's largest concentration of the rare rhino. Footage of the bleeding rhino with its horn removed and a cut to its ear were broadcast on local television.
"It is a sad day for Assam. I am appalled at the fact that poachers could get away with the horn of a live rhino," said Somyadeep Dutta, an environmentalist.
Much of the 480 square kilometre Kaziranga National Park was also flooded, drowning two rhinos and at least a dozen other animals, mostly deer, said Suresh Chand, Assam's chief wildlife warden.
Many other animals migrated to higher ground. The rhino was one of them, leaving the park for a highland across a busy highway, where trailing guards lost track of it, Mr Chand said.
The rhino was then shot by poachers, who extracted its horn while it was still alive. Rhino horn powder is coveted in some Asian countries as a medicine or an aphrodisiac and its popularity has led to a rise in rhino poaching.
Veterinarians were rushed to the rhino's side to try to save its live, Chand said.
An estimated 2,500 out of the world's 3,000 one-horned rhinos live in Kaziranga.
A total of 13 have been killed by poachers around the park in the past nine months, a trend that has caused worry among environmental groups.
Mr Dutta, the environmentalist, demanded an investigation into the incident by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
"The existence of organised poaching syndicates has only been proved by Wednesday's gruesome incident," he said.
At least 19 of Assam's 27 districts have been hit by floods over the past week and fresh rainfalls have been hampering a military-backed relief operation. Floods have forced two million to flee their homes and 18 people have been killed, the disaster management agency in said yesterday.
"Rains and strong river currents are hampering relief and rescue operations by soldiers and Indian air force helicopters," SS Phogat, a defence ministry spokesman, said.
He said despite bad weather heavy-lift helicopters were carrying out between eight and 10 sorties a day, dropping up to 1.5 tonnes of food, medicine and relief materials during each trip.
Mr Phogat said he was unable to put a figure on the number of people rescued so far from flooded homes.
"Our priority right now is to rescue trapped people and reach food and medicines to those affected," he said.
Some residents from flooded Majuli, a densely populated river island, complained of food shortages as well as a lack of government support.
"We have not got any relief supplies from the government and are almost starving," said Rupamoni Payeng, a mother of three children.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse