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Letters from India
Protecting Rhinos in Manas National Park
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
A rhino in Manas National Park in northeast India

Even though the people of Assam celebrated 2022 as a zero-rhinoceros-poaching year that drew attention from the international media and global celebrities, the running year has reported two incidents relating to the poaching of precious one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park and Manas NP during the first half. The latest one surfaced in Manas forest reserve, located in the western part of Assam in northeast India, as the skeleton of a single horn rhino was recovered by the forest employees. The rhino was probably poached by the criminals in May for its priced horn, but the authorities had no clue till the last week of June.

Earlier, Kaziranga forest staff recovered the carcass of a rhino inside the world-famous forest reserve in the last week of March. Here too, the rhino was understood to have poached days back as the staff recovered its decomposed body with the horn gone missing. Otherwise, the brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across Assam positively impacted the mission to save the rhinos.

Many people unscientifically believe that the rhino horns can be used as a traditional Viagra. The horns are also assumed to contain medicinal values for the cure of high fever, stomach ailment and even cancer. Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East are also known to be huge markets for rhino horns, where unlike India the use of horns for medical purposes and scientific research is legalised. But the veterinarians argue that horns comprise the same protein that constitutes the formation of hair. And hence those can not have no such medicinal values, unfortunately for which the animals are being killed.

The stout animal is recognised as a pride to the Assamese people and the 800 square kilometer Kaziranga reserve supports around 2,613 rhinos (whereas the global population of one-horned rhinos is around 4,000 in the wild). The UNESCO world heritage site touching the south bank of mighty river Brahmaputra also gives shelter to over 150 Royal Bengal tigers & around 250 leopards, over 5500 Asiatic elephants, a large number of Asiatic wild buffalos, different species of deer, birds, fishes, etc.

There was a time when Assam witnessed poaching of 27 rhinos in 2013 and 2014 each. Next year, the count came down to 17, and 18 cases were reported in 2016. With the declining trend, 2017 witnessed only seven incidents of rhino poaching, followed by seven in 2018, three in 2019, and two cases in 2020 and 2021. A number of poachers were arrested and four criminals died in encounters. The captured poachers and their associates admitted that they took the risk of killing rhinos inside the restricted forest reserves following their greed for ‘enormous benefits.’

Manas NP in the foothills of Eastern Himalaya lost the rhino population (nearly 100) in the Nineties due to the socio-political turmoil that paved the way for massive deforestation and poaching incidents. The 500 sqkm forest reserve, through which the Manas river (a major tributary of Brahmaputra) flows, borders Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. Under a national rhino vision to boost its population in Assam, the UNESCO world heritage site was chosen as a beneficiary and by 2006 the translocation of rhinos from the forest reserves with concentrated animals were initiated to help it regain the rhino habitat status.

A number of orphaned young rhinos, who got separated from their mothers during the annual floods, were shifted to Manas after keeping them for some days at the center for wildlife rehabilitation and conservation in Kaziranga locality. Often the translocated rhinos need to be observed in an enclosure within the forest reserve so that they can be familiar with the new habitat. But unfortunately, the poachers have not spared the translocated rhinos also. So it’s a matter of serious concern as the transaction needs a huge amount of money, which has been spoiled drastically by the criminals. The authorities should tighten its nets and also emphasise on creating adequate public awareness among the residents in fringe localities.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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