By Nava Thakuria
Guwahati: Assam Governor Padmanabha Balakrishna Acharya is stealing media headlines with his recent outburst against the poaching of one-horned rhinoceros in protected reserves which has invited appreciation from a journalist body of northeast India. Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA), an active media body, while lending moral support to the Governor for his initiative to safeguard the rhinos in wild, also urged the State forest department to come clean on the rhino horns kept in its custody.
Citing the resolution of a citizen’s meet held at Guwahati Press Club on 20 June 2010, the JFA reiterated its demand for conducting a transparent forensic test of all rhino horns preserved by the State forest department, suspecting that these horns were used for illegal trading.Assam Governor Acharya, who was recently sworn in as the Constitutional Head of the State (in addition to Nagaland and Tripura), has maintained his spirit for the conservation of rhinos in various forest reserves. Governor Acharya has termed the rhino poachers as the enemy of the nation, who ˜dared to challenge the authority’. The Governor even opined that the State forest minister must take the moral responsibility to protect the animals.
The rhinos are poached for their horns, which have high market values in
China and some Southeast Asian countries where they believe that the horn has medicinal values and use it as aphrodisiac. Assam has over 2550 one-horned rhinos (out of 3,300 world population) in wild spreading in various protected forest reserves including Kaziranga National Park, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
Rhinos, a pre-historic vegetarian animal are also fast losing their habitats on the Earth because of climate changes and mostly rampant human encroachments. The wildlife experts argue that the rhinos ‘in evolutionary term’ are 50 million years old. The animal maintains some primeval habits including defecating in the same place that makes them vulnerable for poaching.
Though the giant animal is protected under India’s powerful wildlife
protection act which has been under implementation in the entire country since 1972, Assam continues to lose the precious rhinos. The year began with sad news for the wildlife lovers as the midnight of 31 December 2014 reported the killing of a full grown rhinos in Assam.
The count of rhino-slaughtering incidents in various Assam forest reserves has increased up to eight till date.
Earlier Governor Acharya issued a statement raising serious question over the efficiency of the State forest staff in checking the rampant poaching of rhinos in various forest reserves. The Governor even suggested that the Kaziranga should be brought under the vigil of Indian Army personnel to safeguard the wonderful creatures.
Speaking to the media persons recently, Governor Acharya expressed doubts in the capacity of Assam forest department to protect the rhinos. Addressing the budget session of Assam Legislative Assembly on 2 March, Governor Acharya talked to reporters and asserted that the situation remained serious and he was very much concerned about the conservation of rhinos.
Governor Acharya also called the State forest department officials including the director of Kaziranga National Park and gave them an ultimatum to take strict actions against the poachers to curb the poaching of rhinos in the coming days. The forest minister Etowa Munda avoided the meeting with the Governor citing prior engagements.
‘The illegal trade of rhino horns must be stopped to preserve the animals both in Asia and Africa. We suspect that some elements inside the forest department continue links with the international traders,said a statement issued by JFA president Rupam Barua. The media forum also added that the notorious entities would always try to take away the rhino horns from the custody of Assam forest department with the replacement of fake horns for selling in the foreign market for their selfish interest.
‘Unless the people of Assam are given the real information about rhino horns in the government storages before their proper preservation, the trade may continue. Hence we reiterate our old demand for conducting a forensic test of all rhino horns preserved by the authority and make the statistics public, concluded the JFA statement.
(Nava Thakuria is a senior journalist based in Guwahati and the general secretary of the Guwahati Press Club)
By Nava Thakuria