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From London with leopard love
- Nursing student helps lighten Kaziranga’s water woes

Kaziranga, July 29: She nuzzles the leopard cub with the tenderness of a mother cuddling her child. “There, there baby...you will be okay and go back to where you belong soon,” Fiona Pamplin whispers into its ears.

The flood-hit denizens of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park have found their Florence Nightingale in Fiona, a nursing student from London’s Royal Veterinary College. Ever since she arrived on July 14, she has been helping park employees rehabilitate injured and marooned animals.

“I am in love with the animals,” she says. “There can be nothing more satisfying for a veterinarian than to be with animals and help them when they are in distress.”

The 44-year-old, who responded to a request for help by the International Fund for Animal Welfare through its website, intends to stay in Kaziranga till mid-August, by when the floodwaters are expected to recede completely.

Over 60 animals, including five rhinos, have died since floodwaters swamped the park.

The wilds of Kaziranga National Park have always attracted Fiona. “There is nothing comparable to it, but I would have loved to be here in happier times,” says the nursing student, the first foreigner to have responded to the website appeal.

It’s truly a labour of love. She will get no monetary benefits as she has come on her own, and whatever she gets for her expenses will be from her college.

Rathin Barman, who is in charge of the Animal Rehabilitation Centre at the park, says many Indians had responded to the appeal but Fiona was selected because of her nursing background. Fiona and the other volunteers have been very helpful, he says. “Fiona especially has done a commendable job.”

The rehab centre, the only one of its kind in the Northeast, was set up in 2002 with financial assistance from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The Wildlife Trust of India and the state forest department jointly manage the centre, which has 34 animals in its care now, most of them rescued from the flooded areas of the park. A veterinarian, four keepers and volunteers look after the animals.

Fiona, who is staying at a private guesthouse in Bokakhat about 3 km from the rehab centre, keeps herself busy with three leopard cubs. “It is my first experience with leopard cubs, and I can tell you it is one of the best things that have happened to me,” she says.

The cubs will be released in the forests once they grow up. “These cubs should be taught to survive in the wild,” she says. “Getting too close to them will harm their psyche.”

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