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Elephants to track, chase back rhinos

- Thick forests spur move

Jorhat, Dec. 15: The Jorhat forest department has taken the help of domestic elephants from Kaziranga National Park to round up two rhinos that have strayed out of the park.

Earlier, about a fortnight ago, two rhinos had strayed out of the park and were moving from one sapori (sandbar) of the Brahmaputra to another — between Jorhat mainland and Majuli island.

One of the two forest teams trying to lead the animals back to the park came across a group of poachers on December 3. The poachers fled after the team fired at them. The team was finally able to drive the rhinos back into the park.

Three days ago, the footprints of two more rhinos were discovered on Mulai Kathoni — a Brahmaputra sapori in Jorhat. Divisional forest officer (Jorhat) N.K. Malakar told The Telegraph today that two elephants from Kaziranga had arrived yesterday and were being used to track and chase the rhinos back into the park.

Mulai Kathoni is a mini-forest of over 500 hectares that has been created over the last three decades on Karthik Sapori by environmental activist Jadab Payeng, who is popularly known as Mulai and the Forest Man of India.

The sapori is now home to several species of birds, hog deer, spotted deer, rabbits, foxes, a Royal Bengal tiger family, elephants that come and go and a visiting wild herd of buffaloes. Migratory birds also flock to the several small beels (water bodies) in the forest during winter.

The forest on the sapori is thick, so elephants are required to track down the rhinos because forest staff cannot access certain places on foot, the DFO said. “Now both our teams, which were separately following the rhinos, are together searching across Kartik Sapori on foot and on the elephants,” he said.

In the earlier effort, the two teams were separately following the rhinos — one combing the saporis using boats, motorbikes and on foot and the other on foot and in an SUV along the Brahmaputra bank.

The official said fresh footmarks of the rhinos were seen today by his staff in the sandbar and efforts were on to trace the two animals, which were vulnerable to poachers outside the park.

Forest official Haren Saikia, who is leading the staff from Majuli beat, said the elephants can be used only during daytime. So, they were withdrawn this late afternoon and would be pressed into service again tomorrow morning, Saikia said.

Guards will patrol the sapori on foot at night.

Over the past three years, poachers have killed over six rhinos that had strayed out of the park. Already 28 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga this year. It is not uncommon for rhinos to wander out of the national park, especially in winter, as they are attracted to the fresh grass that grows on the saporis that remain submerged during the monsoon, a senior Kaziranga official said.

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