Three rhinos rewrite history in Manas National Park

Rhino_releaseIt seems like only yesterday that the three rhinos were so little. Myno, and her two adopted sisters.  Myno was rescued from the Kaziranga floods in 2003, and was joined by two little rhinos in the floods of 2004. I actually spent a fair bit of time with Myno when I was working at the center in 2003. She was an inquisitive little creature and the very first rhino that I hand raised. She was so smart that she figured out how to let herself into the tiny bathroom in her nursery, turn the faucet on, and drink water  from it . However, she couldn't manage to turn it back off. It was a few days before we figured out why we were mysteriously running out of water everyday.

Each of the three rhinos have a history of struggle, separation from the mother and near drowning in the floods of Assam and then surviving after being nurtured and cared for, for months by the staff of IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Center in Kaziranga. The three came at a time when the rescue center was still in its infancy and I remember having to keep little Myno in the small bedroom next to mine which was our then “nursery”. Myno and the Animal Rescue Center have come a long way since then. 

When the three rhinos were rescued, little did they know that they were en-route this epic journey which will change not only their own lives but the lives of an entire community and the history of a national park, a world heritage site.

The Asian one horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), is on Schedule 1, part one of the Wildlife Protection Act and is accorded the highest order of protection in India. It is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and Appendix I of CITES. Assam is considered to be the last stronghold of the Indian Rhino with more then 2000 rhinos in the wild. In the early 80’s the rhinos were found in Kaziranga National Park, Pobitara Wildlife Sanctuary and Orang and Manas National Park. However, the rhinos in Manas were completely wiped out by poachers during the social unrest in 1990’s. The Indian rhino is illegally poached for its horn which is believed to have healing and aphrodisiac properties and therefore is used for traditional Oriental medicines. Habitat loss is another large threat to the rhino with fewer than 2500 individuals remaining in the wild.

IFAW  together with the local government and Bodo community established the Rhino Rehabilitation Station  in Manas National Park.  Shortly after,  Myno made history by being the first rhino to set foot in Manas after two decades. Myno and her sisters were received with much grandeur in Manas. However, Myno and her sisters have been inside and electric fenced enclosure since then in order to acclimatise to the new environment and to establish some site fidelity. Finally on  Thanksgiving Day , the three got their first taste of freedom and sense of being truly wild rhinos when the gates of their fenced enclosures were opened and beyond the fence laid the horizon, and a bright, shaky, but promising future. Shaky for the rhinos because this is a first on the path of being a wild rhino, of living like a wild rhino, of facing all the dangers that a wild rhino would face, of foraging for food, establishing a home range, avoiding dangers and recruiting into the wild population!. This is also a first for the people of Manas, the Bodo community for the future survival of the rhinos and their ability to make Manas their home rests not just on the rhinos but also the people of Manas and the protection and space they are able to offer to the three rhinos.

The park authority made necessary arrangements on the security front, including alerting the field staff in all camps of the park for the protection of the rhinos.  The park's Director  said that all the anti-poaching camps inside as well as in the southern boundary of the park  have been activated  and patrolling is going on day and night. The local youth from the bordering villages have been mobilized to  protect the rhinos. The security situation in Manas is rather good now, but  no-one is taking chances. This  release is a concrete attempt to re-establish  Manas as a UNESCO world heritage site, home  to a range of wildlife.

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