Assam to destroy rhino horns stored over four decades
State chief wildlife warden MK Yadava said a final decision on destroying the horns will be taken after a public hearing on August 29 and based on recommendations of a state-level committee constituted last month for the purpose
Assam’s forest and environment department plans to destroy animal parts, including around 2,500 rhino horns, seized from poachers, smugglers or extracted from dead animals over the last four decades. State chief wildlife warden MK Yadava said a final decision on destroying the horns will be taken after a public hearing on August 29 and based on recommendations of a state-level committee constituted last month for the purpose. “Based on the public hearing and the recommendations of the committee, the plan to destroy the horns would be finalised.”
Officials said around five per cent of the horns needed in court cases and for preservation for educational and scientific purposes will continue to be stored. They will include the horns with unique features like the heaviest and longest among them. Elephant tusks and similar stored items will also be destroyed.
Rhino horns are used in traditional medicine in countries such as China and Vietnam. Their high value has been blamed among one of the reasons for rampant killing of rhinos. Assam is home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos. According to a 2018 census, there were nearly 2,650 rhinos in the state. Around 2,400 of them were concentrated in the Kaziranga National Park.
Rhinos are listed in the Schedule 1 of Wildlife (Protection) Act as an endangered species. There is an international ban on trade of rhino horns.
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Assam constituted a committee in 2016 to verify the horns amid doubts over their authenticity and safety. The committee found almost all 2,500 horns were genuine.
Experts welcomed the move to destroy the horns. “Scientifically, rhino horns do not have any value. But they have a price in some markets based on superstitions about its medicinal properties. If we preserve them, it will convey the message that we believe in such superstitions. The horns stored in Assam should be destroyed,” said Rathin Barman, joint director, Wildlife Trust of India.
Mrinal Talukdar, a member of the committee constituted for the verification of the horns, said they suggested the horns should be destroyed. “Preserving them could give a message to poachers that the horns are indeed of value and could lead to more poaching of the species.”
Officials said six zonal committees verified the animal parts between August 18 and August 23 across Assam. The process involved forensic examination, extraction of DNA material, generation of barcode for each part, measurement and weighing of specimens and photography. Officials said the verification was done in presence of magistrates, representatives of deputy commissioners, superintendents of police, members of previous verification panels and members of technical, zonal and state committees. “All the activities are duly photo captured and video graphed. The operation is screened live on big monitors kept outside the halls for public viewing and transparency,” said a forest department statement.