By Prabin Kalita
Poaching has always been one of the biggest threats to the famed one-horned rhino of Assam, but not many are aware that a huge number of the endangered animals are dying natural deaths. An average of 50 rhinos die naturally in the state every year, an official statement has said.
In a written reply to a query by AIUDF legislator Abur Rahim Khan, forest minister Rockybul Hussain on Friday said since 2001, at least 1,002 rhinos have died natural deaths in wild habitats while four have died in the state zoo. Seventy-five rhinos have died naturally this year, 74 in the wild and one in the zoo.
On the other hand, 170 rhinos have been killed by poachers since 2001, said the forest minister. He added that 40 rhinos have been killed by poachers this year, the highest in the last 13 years.
According to the last census in 2012, the population of rhinos in the state was 2,500. The wild, protected habitats of rhinos in the state are Kaziranga National Park, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajib Gandhi Orang National Park and Manas National Park.
Hussain informed the house that of the 1,002 natural deaths, 112 occurred last year, which is the highest in this period; 111 in 2008; 107 in 2004; 86 in 2007; 75 in 2005; 72 in 2011; 71 in 2010; 66 in 2003; 65 in 2002; 63 each in 2006 and 2009 and 37 in 2001.
In his letter, Hussain also said that the state government has submitted proposals to the Centre for installing electronic eyes, night-vision binoculars and unmanned aerial vehicles to keep an eye on poachers and track their movements.