By Sujit Chakraborty
Guwahati, Aug 25 | Following a Gauhati High Court order, Assams Environment and Forest Department is likely to destroy around 2,500 rhino horns, ivory and body parts of other protected animals stored in various treasuries in different districts.
Assam’s Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Mahendra Kumar Yadav said the process to verify the rhino horns, ivory and body parts of various protected animals seized from poachers, smugglers or extracted from dead animals over the last four decades and kept in government treasuries in districts, is now underway.
“The Forest Department would take a final decision on destroying the horns, ivory and other animal parts after a public hearing on August 29 at Assam Forest School Campus at Jalukbari in Guwahati.
“Recommendations of a state-level committee constituted last month for the purpose and the state government’s advice would be considered before the burning of these remains,” Yadav, who is also the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW), told IANS.
He said that around 5 per cent of the specimens would be preserved for education, awareness, scientific purposes and required as exhibits in certain court cases.
The destruction of the rhino horns and other animal parts would be conducted in conformity with the relevant provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and to comply the Gauhati High Court’s December 13, 2010 order,that was passed following public interest litigation.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Amit Sahai said that verification of rhino horns stored in Kamrup (Metro), Barpeta and Morigaon districts has been completed while it is underway in Sonitpur, Nagaon, Golaghat and other district treasuries.
Of the 261 horns verified so far, 241 have been marked for destruction and 18 for preservation.
Sahai said that various stakeholders, including media persons and NGOs are involved in the ongoing verification of rhino horns, elephant tusks (ivory) and body parts of other protected animals to ensure transparency in the whole exercise.
The entire operation is being screened live, he said, adding that the exercise is being conducted by seven zonal committees and a technical panel constituted by the CWW.
He said that the Environment and Forest department is mulling to dispose of the damaged rhino horns on the National Elephant Appreciation Day on September 22.
“Barring the rhino horns linked to court cases and some good samples of horns for showcasing in museums and for scientific besides academic purposes, the rest of the horns would be destroyed,” he said.
The rhino horns are not meant for display or for use in any other way by any individual, he clarified.
The Assam government had constituted a panel, “Rhino Horn Verification Committee” in 2016, following allegations that fake horns were being used to replace the real ones in the district treasuries.
In the last such statewide inspection of rhino horns conducted in 2016, a total of 2,020 horns were found in 12 treasuries of the state.
During the verification process, the committee recorded the “world’s largest” horn weighing 3.051 kg and 36 cm in length and it was found in 1982 from a rhino in the Bagori Range of Kaziranga National Park.
The only horn, also collected from Assam in 1909, recorded to be bigger at that time was 60 cm in length and was kept at the British Museum in London. However, there is no mention of the weight of that horn.
There is a standing instruction from the Supreme Court to burn wild animal parts like elephant tusks and rhino horns.
However, the state has a collection of rhino horns seized after 1979. The rhino horns seized before 1979 were disposed off as per the wildlife Act then.
However, the Environment and Forest Department had decided not to burn this collection of rhino horns due to the emotional attachment of the people have with them, a senior official said.
With an estimated rhinoceros population of 2,640, Assam has the largest number of Indian one-horned rhinos in the world.
Assam’s world-famous Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, which is India’s seven UNESCO world heritage sites, situated in Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong districts, is home to more than 2,400 one-horned Indian rhinos.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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