DR SHANKAR CHATTERJEE

Rhinoceros, popularly called rhino is famous in India particularly available in Assam known as one-horned rhino. Also, Assam is famous in the world for tea and rhinoceros. When I was in abroad (some countries) many people talked about the rhinos of Assam.

Anyway, as per the website, forest.assam.gov.in/portlets/wildlife-sanctuary, the list of sanctuaries including wildlife sanctuaries plus proposed sanctuaries in Assam are 20, as given below:

1. Garampani Wildlife Sanctuary

2. Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary

3. Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary

4. Chakrasila Wildlife Sanctuary

5. Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary

6. Panidehing Wildlife Sanctuary

7. Hollongapar Wildlife Sanctuary

8. Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary

9. Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary

10. Bherjan – Borajan – Padumoni Wildlife Sanctuary

11. East K. Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary

12. Nambor Wildlife Sanctuary

13. Marat Longri Wildlife Sanctuary

14. Nambor – Doigrung Wildlife Sanctuary

15. Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary

16. Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary

17.  Borail Wildlife Sanctuary

18. Deepar Beel Wildlife Sanctuary

19. Bordoibam Bilmukh Bird Wildlife Sanctuary (Proposed)

20. North K. Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary (Proposed)

Kaziranga is world-famous and one of the oldest national parks. In the year 1985, the park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is believed that “when Mary Curzon, the wife of the Viceroy of India – Lord Curzon visited the park to see Indian one-horned rhinoceros; she wasn’t able to find even one.

“Then she persuaded her husband to take urgent measures to protect the dwindling species which he did by initiating planning for their protection. After a series of meetings and documentation, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 square kilometres in 1905” (kaziranga-national-park.com/).

I wish to mention here that there is one main difference between a wildlife sanctuary and a national park – Human activities are allowed in a wildlife sanctuary – to a limited extent but are illegal in a national park (according to the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests). Human activities mean agriculture and organic farming, extracting timber or collecting honey, fruits, berries, etc.

But this innocent pachyderm (rhino)  is being killed because of its horn. The horns are used for different purposes mainly in Chinese medicines. According to traditional Chinese texts, viz., Li Shih-Chen’s 1597 medical text “Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu”, rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders.

Poaching is a great threat to rhino populations. Poachers are now being supplied by international criminal gangs with sophisticated equipment to track and kill rhinos. (savetherhino.org/rhino-info/threats/poaching-rhino-horn).

The poaching issue can be understood from Assam as “the rhino horns that have been stockpiled in the treasuries of the Assam Government will be soon set on fire and destroyed in public on 22 September.  A total of 2,479 pieces of rhino horns will be burned.

The decision of burning the rhino horns was made by the Assam Cabinet on Thursday (September 16, 2021) in a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma  (Sentinel /  19 Sep 2021). Also, it is observed by the Sentinel that 2,479 out of 2,623 horns that had been preserved in the treasuries of the Assam government will be destroyed in a function in front of the public.

Health Minister Keshab Mahanta also said that 94 rhino horns will be preserved as heritage pieces for academic purposes and 50 rhino horns will be reserved for court cases.

“A natural history museum has been decided to be set up at the Kaziranga National Park where the 94 horns can be preserved as heritage pieces and public presentation. The 94 horns belong to rhinos that have died of natural causes,” he said.

From this discussion it is evident that many rhinos were killed by criminals, for me, they are not poachers simply dreaded criminals. I suggest the Assam Government should take measures to control the killing of the rhinos. Any person involved in this criminal activity must be inflicted with severe punishment.

It is pertinent to mention that World Rhino Day is celebrated on September 22 every year. This special day provides the opportunity for cause-related organizations, NGOs, zoos, and members of the public to celebrate rhinos in their own unique ways. There are five extant species of rhinos- white, black (found in Africa), Indian, Javan, and Sumatran (found in southern Asia). Let us all join to save the rhinos from the clutches of ‘dreaded criminals’.

Dr. Shankar Chatterjee is a former Professor & Head (CPME), NIRD & PR Hyderabad. 

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