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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rhino charges back from brink of extinction

Rhino charges back from brink of extinction

Friday, December 10, 2004

[India News]: Kaziranga (Assam), Dec 10 : India's endangered one-horned rhinos are fighting back from the throes of death despite increasing demand for their horns in the international market.

Until a few years ago, the Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam echoed with sounds of staccato gunfire as the noble beast became the target of poacher gangs - up to 600 of the pachyderms were killed for their horns between 1985 to 2000.

But today the rhino is once again staring straight into the visitor's eyes. The 430-sq km Kaziranga park is now home to the single largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros.

According to latest figures, more than 1,600 of the world's estimated 2,400 rhinos roam the thick savannah grasslands of Kaziranga.

From just five rhinos in 1905, Kaziranga is all set to create history with the park gearing up for a massive centenary celebration in February.

"It will be a gala carnival with wildlife experts and enthusiasts from across the world expected to visit Kaziranga during the celebrations," Assam Forest Minister Pradyut Bordoloi said.

From wildlife safaris to elephant soccer matches, visitors are expected to have some real wild fun during the weeklong celebrations.

Among the invitees are family members of Lord Curzon, the then British Viceroy in India.

According to history, Lady Curzon visited Assam in 1904-05 after hearing about the Kaziranga rhinos from a British tea planter friend - she came but could just see some hoof prints of the animal.

"On her return she persuaded her husband Lord Curzon to do something to save this animal from extinction," the minister said.

Lord Curzon set the wheels of British bureaucracy rolling and declared Kaziranga a reserved forest in 1905. The sanctuary finally attained the status of a national park in 1974.

"We owe a lot to the Curzons and hence our decision to invite some relatives of the Curzon family as a symbolic gesture during the centenary celebrations," Bordoloi said.

"To find the Kaziranga rhinos charging back from the brink of extinction is perhaps the world's biggest conservation success stories," added park director M.K. Vasu.

"Nobody thought the rhinos would survive with organised poacher gangs hunting down the animal," Vasu told IANS.

Park wardens report a downslide in rhino poaching in the past five years, saying only two were killed this year.

"A highly effective protection mechanism, better intelligence network, and a proactive role played by local villagers residing along the park, have helped us check poaching in recent years," Vasu said.

The demand for the horn, however, is on the rise -- three poachers were gunned down by forest rangers inside Kaziranga in the past two months and as many as five attempts by poachers to kill rhinos were thwarted in the same period.

Organised poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities. They are also used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in many parts of South Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering - a shooter gets about Rs. 100,000 ($2,200) for killing the animal, while one kg of the horn fetches up to Rs 1.5 million in the international market. A full-grown rhino could have horns weighing up to two kg.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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