Save the Rhinos

According to a Karbi legend, the one horned rhino or the ‘Kindu’ was brought from heaven by the angels Kajir Ronghangpi and Sarsomon Ronghang. The rhino was brought to help the people on earth to survive and plough the land. There is no doubt that the majestic animal the towering and beautiful animal is a god gift to Assam so much so that Assam has gained a foothold in the world map by virtue of the name and fame of the one horned rhino.

Sadly, the rampant killing of this species is pushing it towards extinction. Our heads are hung in shame as this year itself fourteen rhinos have been poached under the very nose of the authorities. The recent killing of the rhino Hainari, a translocated rhino from Kaziranga National Park in the Manas National Park just ten days after giving birth has created a furor in Assam. The thirteen year old rhino is the fourth translocated rhino to be killed by poachers. The horns were taken away along with the nails and flesh. The heartbreaking fact is the calf was at the spot when its mother was brutally killed in front of its eyes.

The danger signal is the increasing use of sophisticated weapons by poachers. The use of high-powered weapons enable poachers to kill the rhinos quickly, cut off their horns and flee before the forest guards can get to the scene. Many of Assam’s rhinos have been gunned down by Kalashnikov rifles. The state has approximately 2,500 rhinos remaining after losing 21 to poachers last year. Assam’s proximity to Bangladesh and Myanmar has enabled the easy access of arms and also enables poaching gangs access international criminal syndicates engaging in wildlife smuggling.

The primary destination for rhino horns are China and Viet Nam. The trade of rhino horn has been going on since ages. The earliest records are that of its use for medicinal purposes in China. Rhino horns were also used for the translucent appearance when carved and used to make cups and bowls, which were believed to have the added advantage of being able to detect alkaloid poisons. Recent times in the 1960-70s it was used for making ceremonial dagger handles, known as jambiyas, in Yemen. Rhino horn has always in demand in Asia as a constituent in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with on and off trade between China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and territories. By the mid-1990s, all the important rhino horn consumer countries in Asia had banned the substance in their TCM industries. While in Vietnam rhino horns are extensively used by habitual users especially the elites who frequently use rhino horn as a detoxifying beverage and body-rejuvenating tonic. Therefore rhino horns are purchased with exorbitant sums. However, instances of allergic reactions due to poisoning as a result of using rhino horn medicines might probably change the opinion on the medical properties of rhino horn and lead to a decline in its use.

A serious and organized effort can only check the alarming rate of Wild life crime. WWF-India believes that intelligence networks need to be strengthened and a dedicated law enforcement agency established.WWF is currently running an international campaign against illegal wildlife trade to put pressure on governments to protect animals from poaching and to prevent illegal trade across borders. The campaign’s other objective is to educate consumers about how they can take steps to stop fuelling the illegal demand for wildlife products worldwide.

Allegedly not less than 3 crore has already been spent by donors under the India Rhino Vision 2020. Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 is a partnership the Assam Forest Department, the Bodoland Territorial Council, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The program’s goal is to attain a wild population of at least 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos in the Indian state of Assam - spread over seven protected areas - by the year 2020. In order to reach that goal, the existing population will have to increase by over 600 rhinos in the next eight years, which amounts to an average annual increase of about 3%.

Despite the research and the funds the question arises why no concrete steps have been taken, why we haven’t been able to put an end to rhino killings. Perhaps instead of spending sums of money on security we need to try and lure out the poachers by offering them what they desire or turn the predators into protectors. Educating the people and villagers dwelling on the fringe areas about conservation offering cash rewards to persons giving whereabouts or information about poachers can also somewhat check cases of poaching. Or perhaps wait for the day when the demand for rhino horns comes to a complete end but till then lets pray that our rhinos fight it out on their own and dodge the bullets of poaching hands by seeking some divine intervention .
This article is written by Rituparna Goswami Pande, a freelance writer contributing to various portals, newspapers and magazines. She is an animal lover and self styled animal activist.

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