| A forest guard feeds Ratul. Picture by Biplab Basak
Jalpaiguri, April 28: Ratul lost his family to a flood, his instinct to the forest department’s affection and his “partner” and freedom to the department’s folly. Just when he seemed to have reconciled to the chain of events, comes the next whammy.
The two-ton “pet rhino” at Gorumara Wildlife Sanctuary will be translocated to Calcutta’s Alipore zoo. The decision was taken at the Wildlife Advisory Board meeting held at Chapramari last month.
Forest minister Jogesh Burman said the zoo authorities have already given the nod. The reason for the relocation remains the same: to enhance the gene pool in the zoo.
Ratul was rescued and raised by forest department officials of Kaziranga National Park after being swept away by a flood. He was brought to Gorumara National Park in the nineties as part of a failed breeding programme to enhance the gene pool of the captive population in the north Bengal reserve. Ratul’s “friend” Madhu, another male, was also made part of the programme and sent to Jaldapara.
“Ratul could never get over the separation,” said a forest guard at Gorumara. “The decision to let tame rhinos fend for themselves in the wild was a mistake. But no official will ever accept it'”
Survival strategies eroded by years of human care, Ratul and Madhu found the going tough in the wild. Bullied by the wild cousins in the forest, Ratul and his mate sustained serious injuries in the battle for dominance. With a failed project staring them in the eye, the forest department shifted priorities from breeding to saving their lives.
While Madhu was taken to Jaldapara and kept within the confines of an electric fence, Ratul languished in a similar enclosure in Gorumara. Ratul staged a slow recovery, Madhu succumbed to injuries some months ago.
Though authorities look at the latest step as a positive move that ensures the safety of the animal, environmental groups and many in the lower rungs of the forest department do not share the same enthusiasm.
“Ratul’s life is one never-ending nightmare. He was a misfit in the wild and was snatched from his keepers for a breeding programme that never took off. His mate died and Ratul has spent most of his life behind a fence. Why are the authorities sending him to a lime and mortar world'” asked Animesh Bose, a member of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.
“We had protested the department’s decision to bring the two beasts but they went unheard. Again it will be the same story. The least the officials could have done was save him the trauma of relocation at this age.”