Millennium Post

Saving the rhinoceros

The killing of two rhinoceres in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park by poachers should not have happened. These rhinoceres were mutilated and had their horns chopped off while one of them had its ears cut while still alive. These are unnecessarily and brutal killings of protected animals. This is not the first killing in the recent past. Just four days ago another rhinoceros was shot dead. The park has lost four rhinos within a week and fourteen within the year. In fact, as many as 290 of these animals may have been killed since 2001. Many hundreds have also perished due to natural disasters, with as many as 700 of the animals having died in floods this June. It is unfortunate that these killings have taken place at the Kaziranga National Park which is a world heritage site. The rhino is protected under  the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. At one time, the Kaziranga National Park was a remarkable story of the conservation of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros, with their numbers increasing dramatically over a large part of the 20th century. However, today, they are once again among the world’s most endangered species but have been reduced to only about 2,500 in South Asia. It is of interest that the rhinocers is an ancient species which is depicted on the seals of the Mohenjodaro era 5,000 years ago and roamed the plains of the Indus river.  Once plentiful in South Asia, they were extensively hunted or captured, leading to the decimation of the species. The further destruction of their habitat over the years as well as poaching has brought the rhinos to the brink of extinction. They are killed because their body parts are prized and their horn is an ingredient in traditional Asian medicines.

The horn has also been used to finance militancy in the north-eastern states of India, which has caused the extinction of rhino populations in some protected areas. It is even more alarming that their habitat is rapidly shrinking because of the conversion of grasslands for agricultural fields. There are other pressures on rhinoceros as well such as growing population. The worst challenge to their existence that has emerged in recent years is poaching. Even as there are government programmes to foster the rhinoceros population and to increase their numbers, and the laws against poaching are strict, they are not rigourously enforced. Forest departments face challenges such as the lack of equipment and finances. However, more important has been the lack of political will, which has meant that rhino consevation has had a low priority.
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