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CIMA Gallary

Nowhere to hide

You kill and mutilate us at will, yet shrug it all off as nothing noteworthy.

Then you deride us as the archetypal insensitive beast. Sure, it’s us who have the thickest skin.

Yes, I’m an Indian rhino. Poachers killed at least 17 of my brethren last year in and around Kaziranga, the sanctuary I call home. One of them was my brother Billy.

“Ten inside Kaziranga, seven outside,” I heard park director Niranjan Kumar Vasu tell someone the other day. Four more killed elsewhere in Assam.

And for what? So you humans can enjoy your sex a little better. Even that’s a lie, for the idea that rhino horns can be used to make aphrodisiacs is pseudoscientific nonsense.

Ah, but I heard our old friend Rathin Burman — he’s a co-ordinator for rhino conservation efforts with the Wildlife Trust of India in Guwahati — so earnestly trying to convince someone that our horns have no market in India. “Poaching is entirely driven by foreign demand,” he was saying. So? Does that absolve you of your failure to protect us?

THE ECONOMICS

Poaching is driven by the soaring price of rhino horns, which are used in traditional medicine in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam

A rhino horn can fetch
between Rs 40 lakh and Rs 50 lakh in Assam. By the time the horn reaches end-users abroad, the price can touch Rs 1 crore

Poachers are usually paid a
25 per cent cut

Poachers carry away the teeth, nails and tails to prove that the horn is of a rhino

I’m told a rhino horn can cost up to Rs 1 crore abroad. Wish our lives were worth a fraction of that to you.

You know why we are such soft targets? Because we are friendly and easily taken in. When you humans approach us, we don’t run — sometimes we even seek you out by scent.

Even when we know you pose a threat, we stand our ground because we must protect the young and the weak and our females. That’s how Billy got shot. Poachers take advantage of our family feelings — they mimic a rhino calf by making a nasal “et, et” sound and sure enough, a gullible mother comes running.

An age-old tradition too makes us vulnerable: we always return to the same spot to defecate — a rhino that doesn’t isn’t worth his horn. It helps you to lay traps — a pit or live cables.

That’s how Baby, our clan’s prettiest and Kaziranga’s pride, fell to poachers. Oh, what a complexion she had, thanks to all those mud baths. My body still carries the scars from a duel I got into over her, with a nasty rhino from across the stream.

I can almost hear you smirk — you just can’t associate beauty with rhinos, right? Is that why you create such a brouhaha over the deaths of those brilliantly striped tigers while ignoring ours?

Yes, yes, I know, there are at least 2,200 of us at Kaziranga, that our numbers are increasing through the park’s efforts. We thank you for that. But you know what? For a long time, when tigers were being hunted, you thought the toll was piffling compared with the population. You are slow learners.

Else, you could have learnt from us. Have you ever seen a rhino attack the mynahs or egrets that constantly feed on insects off our skin? We know how to co-exist.

Till you learn that, we have to fight back the only way we can. We have 600 breeding females who give birth once in four years, so potentially we can add 150 to our population every year. I’m willing to do my bit.

Only, I wish they had left Baby alone.