After weeks of ‘rhino horn reverification’ exercises by the Forest Department across Assam, the state Cabinet last week announced that the Assam Government will burn a stockpile of nearly 2,500 horns of the one-horned rhinoceros in a special ceremony on World Rhino Day that is celebrated on September 22.
Story behind the ceremony:
After a rhino dies, either out of natural causes or due to poaching, its horn is kept in the custody of the Forest Department in the state treasuries across the state. Through August and September, the Forest Department carried out ‘horn re-verification exercises spanning treasuries across seven wildlife zones (Morigaon, Manas, Mangaldai, Guwahati, Bokakhat, Nagaon and Tezpur) and examined more than 2,500 horns. The aim was to recount and reverify the horns.
After the reconciliation of 2,623 horns, 2,479 were marked for destruction, 94 for preservation, and 21 were found fake. A similar re-verification exercise took place in 2016 following allegations by an RTI activist, Dilip Nath. He alleged that a section of Forest Department employees had been illegally trading horns in the treasuries and replacing them with fakes.
The public ceremony will take place at Bokakhat in Kaziranga National Park (KNP) with Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma as the chief guest, it is publicised as a “milestone towards rhino conservation” aimed at busting myths about rhino horns and giving poachers and smugglers a message that the horns serves no worth.
It is illegal to sell the horns in the country anyway. So instead of the horns decaying in treasuries, the decision to burn it” he said.
In the illegal market, such horns can fetch a high price. ground rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine to cure a range of ailments and is believed to be an aphrodisiac.” In Vietnam, possessing a rhino horn is considered a status symbol. “Due to demand in these countries, rhinos are in constant danger from the poaches.
In 2019, the Assam government constituted a dedicated “Special Rhino Protection Force” to keep a check on rhino poaching and related activities at KNP. A March 2018 rhino census pegged the rhino population at 2,413 in KNP, 101 in Orang National Park, and 102 in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, and a more recent count said there were 43 in the Manas National Park.
The one-horned rhino, which was earlier “endangered” as per the IUCN Red List, is now listed as “Vulnerable.”