NY Times
Yugoslavs battle to save wildlife

April 17, 2000


BECEJ, Yugoslavia (AP) -- His arms cut and bruised, forest ranger Laslo Kneht recounted Monday how he and others waded waist-deep through flooded farmlands in northern Serbia, trying to save roe deer and fawns.

"I didn't even feel the antlers cutting my arms. All I could see were the does' terrified eyes, their small bodies trembling with fear and exhaustion," said the ranger, who said he rescued 36 deer on Sunday alone.

The deer had run for miles trying to escape the rising waters of the Tisza River, which last week engulfed northern Serbia and flooded thousands of acres. In Becej, a town about 60 miles northwest of the capital, Belgrade, 12,350 acres were underwater and damage estimates rose to $740,000.

Kneht said the deer rescue was a spontaneous response by the community's hunters, gamekeepers and nature lovers. They succeeded in saving 142 deer and 22 rabbits over the weekend.

In deeper waters, the rangers set out in boats, trying to pull out swimming deer and other wildlife. Once aboard the boats, the animals were taken to nearby dams and sandbags, which were set up as protection from the flooding. From there, the animals had free access to dry ground.

Kneht said he didn't know how much of the local wildlife died in the floods, but two roe deer he plucked from the waters died from exhaustion in his arms. The deer were completely disoriented by the random swimming, he said.

Officials and residents of the area say they have been left on their own to fight the floods, which also have inundated areas of Hungary and Romania. Members of the opposition point to the fact that Becej is run by local politicians critical of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. They say that why no federal aid is forthcoming.

Approached for help, federal authorities told local governments to set aside 1 percent of taxes they collect to finance flood-fighting efforts.



Original article