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Assam grassroots bid to save straying rhinos

- Awareness campaign on chaporis to sensitise residents about the beauty of Kaziranga and its animals

Jorhat, Dec. 3: A team of forest personnel from Kaziranga National Park and members of two NGOs have taken it upon them to interact with people living on various chaporis (sandbars) on the Brahmaputra and spread awareness about not harming straying rhinos.

“We are holding meetings and showing films on Kaziranga to people who stay far away from the mainland. These are the places that are generally visited by rhinos and are prone to animal-human conflict,” said Uttam Saikia, secretary of Bhumi, one of the NGOs taking part in this campaign. The other NGO is Aranyak.

The team launched the mission late last month and has reached a few chaporis near Jorhat district today. “We have covered more than 20 chaporis since we set sail about 15 days back. We have been camping here and are trying to convince the people living in these remote areas not to harm rhinos,” Saikia said. He said a documentary prepared on Kaziranga has also been screened in the evenings so that people realise how beautiful the national park and its denizens are.

“These people rarely get the chance to visit Kaziranga and as such have no idea how beautiful the national park is. The documentary will give them an opportunity to know more about Kaziranga and its animals, especially the rhinos,” he said.

An office-bearer of Aranyak said there are plans to cover as many chaporis as possible in Golaghat, Jorhat, Sonitpur and Nagaon districts by the end of this year. “Lohere, Ophola, Borbali, Chute, Gopaljaroni, Mandir, Sikoli, Kartik Dhudang are the few chaporis we have covered in the last few days,” he said.

Stray rhinos have become a major problem for the Kaziranga authorities. As winter approaches, rhinos stray out of the park to the chaporis as a small variety of short grass grows after floods on these chaporis and rhinos are fond of them.

Last year, several rhinos had strayed out of the park and travelled towards Upper Assam. Four of them were killed by poachers.Last month, the national park authorities had alerted all the neighbouring districts to be on the lookout for rhinos to protect the animals from poachers.

Park director N.K. Vasu said he had asked the divisional forest officers (DFOs) of the adjoining districts to mobilise support against poaching among the villagers by holding meetings, in addition to intensifying patrolling on boat and on foot. “I have sent wireless messages to DFOs of Golaghat, Jorhat, Nagaon, Sonitpur (east) and Sonitpur (west) to remain alert and intensify patrolling by forest staff in Brahmaputra chaporis,” Vasu said.

He said stray rhinos become easy targets for poachers and hence the district officials have been asked to keep a close watch on the riverine areas to spot and protect them. The DFOs of these districts have also been asked to set up mobile camps on the small river islands and if necessary, to track the animal round-the-clock.

Vasu said he has also asked the forest personnel to hold awareness meetings with the local people so that they can inform the forest staff or police if they spot a rhino or any person moving in the areas in a suspicious manner.

“A strong message should go to the people that if anyone is found aiding poachers by guiding them or by harbouring them, they would be arrested and dealt with strongly,” he said. Vasu said the forest staff have been asked to contact gaonburahs (village heads) to help them in their job and also take the assistance of village defence parties (VDP) operating in those or nearby areas.