Thursday, May 12, 2016

Meet the Rhinos!

The rhino is the pride of Assam. We here have the most sizeable population of the one-horned rhinoceros on the planet. We have a reason to feel pride over this magnificent beast. While we know that rhinos are found in Africa as well, there is a misconception among many of us that rhinos are found nowhere else but Africa and Assam. This is not so. We are hosts to one of the species of the greater Rhinocerotidae family that hold five species in total.

Many of us also think that rhinos are found only in Assam and nowhere else in India. This again is wrong. The Indian one-horned rhino is distributed in the states of Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In Bengal, the rhino is found in the reserved forests of Gorumara and Jaldapara in the Dooar region and in Uttar Pradesh, they are in the Dudhwa and Katarniaghat reserved forests. But yes, without doubt, Assam takes away the prize in having the highest population of rhinos in India. But again the Indian rhino is not found in India alone and there is a presence of around 645 individuals in the reserved forests of neighbouring Nepal, with the highest number being in the Chitwan National Park. 

Out of India, we are well familiar with the two-horned rhinos of Africa. These beasts are marginally larger than the Indian rhino and often have massive horns in comparison to the smaller ones of the Indian variety, which give them the most majestic look in the rhino family. African rhinos are divided into two species of the white rhinoceros and the black rhinoceros. These two types of rhinos dominate the African landscape and the white variety has the largest population of a rhino species in the world. The white rhino is divided into the northern variety and the southern variety depending on their distribution throughout the African continent. The black rhino is spread all over the continent.

Out of Africa, the continent of Asia houses three species of rhinos. Apart from the Indian rhino, the other two are the Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is very similar in appearance to the Indian rhino but is smaller in size. It is found on the island of Java in Indonesia and is on the verge of extinction. According to an estimate only about 60 remain, all in the wild. They are single horned and are considered to be a sub species of the Indian rhino, but their smaller size and exclusive availability on the Javan island has given them the distinction of being a separate species.

The last remaining species in the global rhino family is the Sumatran rhino which is found in the jungles of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. This is a unique rhino and has a seemingly different appearance from the rest of the rhinos in the world. It is two-horned but they are not as big as those of their African cousins. This is the smallest rhino species in the world and does not possess an armoured covering but a hide like that of a boar. Also it is the only rhino species that has body hair on it. Also, it beak like mouth gives it a distinct look from the rest of the rhinos in the world. This is also a critically endangered species and about 275 of them remain today.

Rhinos are a fascinating species. They are a force of brute strength and are perhaps one of the most well armoured animals created by nature. Though they may appear peaceful, they are known for being short tempered and are very protective about themselves and their territories. Even predators like lions and tigers do not dare to go up against them. The Sumatran rhino is considered to be the most docile among them and is not very aggressive in nature.

Rhinos have always fascinated me. I have always been awed by the presence of these magnificent creatures during my visits to Kaziranga and Pobitora. They are one of the oldest surviving species on the planet. Having descended from the woolly rhinoceroses of the bygone Ice Ages in the prehistoric era, the rhinoceros was once spread throughout the continents of Africa and Asia. By the end of the 20th century, rhinos vanished from everywhere in Asia except India, Nepal, Java and Sumatra. In India and Nepal, they remain confined to certain pockets of protected forests.

Poaching is the single biggest threat to the rhino today. Kaziranga continues to witness rhino killings by poachers occasionally. Although their numbers have increased over the years, the continuous activity of the poachers is a major cause of worry. The Javan and Sumatran rhinos are on the verge of extinction and if strong steps are not taken to protect them then we might lose them in this century. The illegal trade in rhino horn has been the biggest cause of worry here and it will not be over till the governments of various countries take steps to eradicate this evil trade for good.

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