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Environment

Indian national park resumes elephant safaris after COVID shutdown

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Elephant safaris have resumed at a famous national park in India’s northeastern state of Assam, seven months after being forced to shut by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage Site, reopened on Oct. 21, part of a wider easing of lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.

From Nov. 1, 37 tourists at a time are allowed to move around the park on the elephants while adhering strictly to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Forest officials, along with elephant trainers who are known locally as ‘mahouts’, performed a small ceremony on Sunday before the resumption of the safaris.

A local priest, in a Hindu blessing, smeared vermillion on the forehead of the elephants as they prepared to receive their first riders after a long gap.

The first batch of tourists then enjoyed a one-hour ride through the forest, which is best known for the endangered one-horned Indian rhinoceros and is also home to a significant population of tigers, bison, swamp deer and leopards.

India on Monday reported 46,441 new COVID-19 infections, federal health data showed, less than half of a peak hit in September.

Reporting by Sunil Kataria, editing by Alasdair Pal and Gareth Jones

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