By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati, Aug. 25 (SocialNews.XYZ) Following an order from the Gauhati High Court, Assam’s Department of Environment and Forestry is likely to destroy around 2,500 rhino horns, ivory and body parts of other protected animals stored in various treasures in different districts.
Mahendra Kumar Yadav, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) of Assam, said the process of verifying rhino horns, ivory and body parts of various protected animals seized from poachers, smugglers or retrieved from animals that have died over the past four decades and kept in government treasuries in the districts, is now underway.
“The Forestry Department is reportedly making a final decision on the destruction of horns, ivory and other animal parts after a public hearing on August 29 at the Assam Forest School Campus in Jalukbari in Guwahati.
“The recommendations of a state-level committee formed last month for this purpose and the advice of the state government would be taken into account before these remains are set on fire,” said Yadav, who is also the Chief Wildlife Custodian (CWW), at IANS.
He said about 5% of the specimens would be kept for educational, outreach, scientific, and required as evidence in some court cases.
The destruction of rhino horns and other animal parts would be carried out in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and in accordance with the order of December 13, 2010 of the High Court of Gauhati, issued in the result of a public interest dispute.
Senior Chief Forestry (Wildlife) Conservator Amit Sahai said verification of rhino horns stored in Kamrup (metro), Barpeta and Morigaon districts has been completed while underway in Sonitpur, Nagaon, Golaghat and other district treasures.
Of the 261 horns verified to date, 241 have been marked for destruction and 18 for preservation.
Sahai said various stakeholders, including media and NGOs, are involved in the ongoing verification of rhino horns, elephant tusks (ivory) and body parts of other protected animals to ensure the transparency throughout the exercise.
The entire operation is being screened live, he said, adding that the exercise is being conducted by seven area committees and a technical panel formed by the CWW.
He said the Department of Environment and Forestry was planning to get rid of damaged rhino horns on National Elephant Appreciation Day on September 22.
“With the exception of the rhino horns related to court cases and a few good horn samples for display in museums and for scientific and academic purposes, the rest of the horns would be destroyed,” he said.
Rhinoceros horns are not intended to be displayed or used in any way by an individual, he clarified.
The Assam government formed a panel, the “Rhinoceros Horn Verification Committee” in 2016, following allegations that fake horns were being used to replace real ones in district treasuries.
In the last statewide rhino horn inspection in 2016, a total of 2,020 horns were found in 12 state treasuries.
During the verification process, the committee recorded the “largest horn in the world” weighing 3.051 kg and 36 cm long and it was found in 1982 on a rhino in the Bagori Range of Kaziranga National Park.
The single horn, also collected from Assam in 1909, recorded as being larger at that time was two feet long and was kept in the British Museum in London. However, there is no mention of the weight of this horn.
There is a standing Supreme Court instruction to burn parts of wild animals like elephant tusks and rhino horns.
However, the state has a collection of rhino horns seized after 1979. Rhino horns seized before 1979 were disposed of under the wildlife law at the time.
However, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry decided not to burn this collection of rhino horns due to people’s emotional attachment to them, a senior official said.
With an estimated rhino population of 2,640, Assam has the largest number of Indian one-horned rhinos in the world.
Kaziranga National Park and the world famous Assam Tiger Reserve, which are the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in India, located in the districts of Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong, are home to over 2,400 one-horned Indian rhinos.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])