A Rhino’s Day Out

Posted on
16 December 2009
A female sub-adult Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) strayed out of Assam’s Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park (NP) on 9 Dec 2009, wandering into the nearby populated areas of Bijulibari, Bherbheri and Abhoypukhuri. The Indian rhino being a threatened mammal and the focus of intensive conservation efforts by the Government as well as WWF-India, this incident kept the forest officials as well as wildlife lovers on tenterhooks for nearly 5 days, until it was found that she had safely gone back to her home - the RG Orang National Park.

The rhino strayed out of the park through the Hazaribhiga area. Overnight, she headed to the riverine areas on the banks of the river Brahmaputra and spent the whole of 10 and 11 Dec there. Then, she headed up to the Kharupetia town where she decided to hide in the backyard of the Kharupetia Hospital. By now, this news had spread like wildfire and people started to gather in large numbers.

According to Amit Sharma, Coordinator, Rhino Conservation, WWF-India there were at least 5000 people who were watching the rhino. To control them and protect the rhino, about 200 local police and paramilitary forces were mobilized. Mr. S.K. Daila, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Mangaldoi Wildlife (WL) Division and Mr. Salim Ahmed, Range Officer (RO), Orang, were on the spot with their staff, monitoring the situation. The rhino, stayed put near the hospital campus for the day.

Translocation Core Committee (TCC), a part of IRV 2020, discussed the issue with wildlife officials and decided on 12 Dec to translocate the stray rhino to Manas National Park. Accordingly, the official machinery and logistics team of the TCC stepped up to carry out the operation.

Mr. B.S. Bonal, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), M&E, Mr. D.M. Singh, CCF (WL), Mr. Amit Sharma and Mr. Bibhab Talukdar coordinated the arrangements. The idea of the team was to start the operations at around 6am on 13 Dec, finish the capture by afternoon and transport the rhino to Manas the same day. The timeline was really tight as a 36-hour political shutdown of Assam state was scheduled to start early on 14 Dec. Therefore, delay in rhino capture the next day would probably result in abandoning the entire operation. When the designated veterinarian reached the location in the late evening hours of 12 Dec, the rhino started moving eastwards. The rhino travelled for about 5 km and information about the new location – Bijulibari, was received by the team only at around 7am the next morning, on 13 Dec.

When the team reached the new location, they realized the area was not suitable for capture as there were many water bodies surrounding it. By afternoon, the rhino, perhaps disturbed by the huge crowd, moved to a new location and entered a swampy area. When the team made it there, it was found that the rhino was stuck in the swamp. She could barely move and probably had difficulty breathing as well. If no help was given, the team believed the rhino would die soon, stuck inside the swamp. Taking the help of locals, the team planned a rescue. But before they could proceed, the rhino somehow managed to get itself out of the swamp and moved into a paddy field. Though the paddy field was a better location for the capture, poor road conditions hampered the rescue team from reaching the location on time. The crowd had also grown to nearly unmanageable numbers and there was a significant risk of people getting hurt during the capture process. Finally, at about 4.30pm, it was decided to abandon the capture plans, for the day. The team then returned to its base camp and decided to trim its size and instead send in a smaller team with a vehicle as well as elephants to track the rhino. The rest returned back to their respective stations, still prepared though to rush back again in case of an emergency.

© Amit Sharma/ WWF-India

Some good news came the next morning, on Dec 14. There were unconfirmed reports that the rhino might have returned to Orang. People on the ground were verifying this by following her foot prints. At noon, the rescue team received confirmation that she had re-entered Orang national park near Bhabapur camp during the night. She had covered a distance of approximately 60 km in five days - a long 5 days for the rhino and those around it!

Though the team did not capture the rhino, it was a happy ending for everyone involved as the team and others coordinated well to arrange the logistics for capture at such short notice.

For more information, please contact:
Amit Sharma
Cordinator, Rhino Conservation
Guwahati, Assam
e-mail: amitsharma@wwfindia.net

Dr. Dipankar Ghose
Head – Eastern Himalaya and Terai Programme
WWF India Secretariat
New Delhi 
Tel: +91 11 4150 4782
E-mail: dghose@wwfindia.net

Ameen Ahmed
Senior Manager (Communications) 
Species and Landscapes Programme
New Delhi
Mob: +91 965 444 0590
E-mail: aahmed@wwfindia.net

External links:
About IRV 2020
Note: WWF-India is not responsible for accuracy of external websites


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