Gifts generally gladden. But the Assam government’s proposal to present visiting dignitaries and museums across the globe with seized rhino horns has made the greens see red.
According to forest minister Rockybul Hussain, gifting rhino horns seized from poachers or retrieved from dead animals was a better way of preserving the animal body part rotting in district treasuries.
The government, however, has no data on the horns lying in the treasuries. This responsibility has been entrusted to a panel headed by principal chief conservator of forests S Chand.
“This is a dangerous proposal. It sounds like a scheme to launder the horns in the guise of mementos to dignitaries and must be opposed tooth and nail,” said Bibhav Talukdar, green activist and member of the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife.
Warning such a move could to a certain extent legitimize poaching, Talukdar apprised Anmol Kumar, DIG (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests, about the proposal. “As per norms, all horns seized must be burnt in public after making a thorough inventory,” he added.
Talukdar, also the chairperson of Asian Rhino Specialist Group, felt the gift idea could fan the aphrodisiac myth about the rhino horn, which actually is a hardened bundle of hair. “If this proposal is pushed through, who’s stopping people from skinning dead tigers and leopards and giving them as trophies to visiting dignitaries?” he asked.
Sangeeta Goswami of People For Animals also slammed the idea as sickening. “It is tantamount to promoting poaching of the rhino.”
Notably, the convention on on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora had asked member countries to declare the status of any stock of rhinoceros horns and derivatives.
A comprehensive declaration form was subsequently provided asking the countries to outline the policy on the disposal of seized horns (and products), marking and registering and summary of horns sold (internally or externally), stolen or destroyed since 2000.
The past 30 years have seen some 500 one-horned rhinos being killed in Assam, home to the bulk of some 2700 of these creatures left on earth. International rings of wildlife traffickers target rhinos for their horns, with a kilo fetching over $ 35,000 in the gray market. The horn is sold in Southeast Asia to make medicines and aphrodisiacs and in West Asia for decorative dagger handles. EOM