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Death on the Brahmaputra: The rhino, the rangers, and the usual suspects

A rhino skeleton with a used bullet was unearthed near a forest guard encampment in Assam, leaving the department red-faced while facing uncomfortable questions. The rhino was reported out of bounds of the safety of Orang National Park in Assam on February 2018. Locals had called the park rangers to report a stray rhino 10 kms out of the range of he park. Since it is pretty normal for the greater one-horned rhinos to wander out of the sanctuaries, the state forest department officials monitor and often corral these rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros unicornis) back to the safety of the park. After straying from Orang NP, the rhino had found sanctuary in the Burachapori-Laokhowa WLS, and lived there for eight months. Yet, a sad fate awaited the stray sub-adult female.On the night of 24th September, she was observed as she tried to move outside of the sanctuary, and was found gone the next morning, according to an official report filed November 2018. Thus eight months after the initial report of the animal straying out of the park boundary, it was leaked to the media that the rangers had lost track of the rhino, leading to the forest department acknowledging and owning up to their mistake and resulting cover-up. Wildlife officials theorised that she had returned to Orang NP, based on a set of footprints, without any other proof. The animal was not seen again until her skeleton was unearthed near the forest guard encampment in Polashtoli. Questions abound regarding the role of officials who had suppressed as well as distorted information, and wasted precious time raising alarm regarding the disappearance of the rhino. “It’s clear that the rhino fell victim to poachers as we recovered a used bullet near the skeletal remains. The footprints mentioned in my predecessor Kumar’s report must have been old footprints or that of another rhino,” observed the divisional forest officer at Nagaon wildlife division, Mr. Ranjith Ram. The Assam state forest department and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau(WCCB) are conducting a joint investigation into the rhinoceros’ disappearance and death.

 

As reported by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya in Mongabay

Image courtesy of Saurav Borkataky

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