The Assam Government’s move to dehorn rhinos to tackle the mounting poaching threat has drawn widespread condemnation from the international conservation community, including rhino experts.The conservationists have termed the move as both unethical and impractical besides contributing little to curb poaching.
A living legend having worked intimately with rhinos for six decades in Africa, Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrik has termed the move as ‘disastrous’, as a rhino without a horn would be robbed of its identity and would be susceptible to various disorders concerning its behaviour and activities, affecting its survival chances in the long run.
“If evolution has not removed the horn from rhinos over millennia, it surely means that the horns are essential to their existence and survival. Dehorning a rhino is emasculating it, depriving it of its means of defence and part of their anatomy upon which they devote an enormous amount of time, shaping, sharpening, etc. It is their identity. Removing it will dent their confidence to such an extent that a dehorned bull rhino will never be confident and fertile to breed,” she said.
Belinda Wright, executive director of Wildlife Protection Society of India who has battled wildlife crime on the ground for years, feels that apart from the risks involved to the animal, “dehorning is not an effective way to curb poaching whereas intelligence-led enforcement is.”
Terming dehorning as a ‘temporary band-aid effort’ of trimming rhino horns which will again grow back in a few months, Wright said that if excellent protection measures were put in place, including intelligence-led enforcement and a network of informers, that would be the best long-term investment that Assam could make to preserve its magnificent natural heritage.
According to Johnny Rodriguez who heads the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, dehorning rhinos was a failed exercise in Zimbabwe, as poachers still targeted the rhinos to dig out even the small stump of horn that remained after dehorning. “I believe the best thing to do is to inject pesticides into the horn. The pesticide does not harm the rhino but if a human consumes it, it can make him very ill or even kill him,” he added.
Addressing the media on Wednesday members of the Assam Environmental NGO Forum – while referring to the views of experts and conservationists – said that the one-horned rhino was not just Assam’s national asset but was also ingrained in popular culture and folklore as a natural heritage since ages, and as such, the heritage species sans its most distinguishable feature, the horn, was unthinkable and unacceptable.
“Even before debating on such a proposal, there has to be some comprehensive study on the biological consequence of dehorning on the one-horned rhino. Moreover, a dehorned rhino will be left with a weak defence mechanism, affecting its long-term survival chances,” Mubina Akhtar, coordinator of the Forum, said.
Calling for strong anti-poaching measures, the Forum said that security assessment was a must for translocation of rhinos under the ongoing IRV 2020, and if the Government was unsure of the security in the targeted areas such as Laokhowa and Burhachapori, the translocation should be postponed till adequate security was there in the sanctuaries.
Jayanta Kumar Das, member of the Forum, said that a hornless rhino would be seriously incapacitated to defend itself and its calves from predators. “Again, as most poaching cases took place in the night, poachers would not be in a position to distinguish between a horned and hornless rhino,” he said.
Das said that involving the local communities as was being done in Nepal was a sure way to check poaching. “In Nepal, 50 per cent of each dollar yielded by ecotourism goes to the local communities, making them stakeholders in a successful conservation process,” he added.
The Forum said that rather than coming up with absurd ideas like dehorning, the Government would do well to focus on addressing the pressing concerns such as lack of trained and motivated frontline manpower, inadequate intelligence, appalling infrastructure and facilities for frontline staff, etc., that are having an adverse bearing on conservation.