Biggest stockpile of rhino horns consigned to flames in Assam on World Rhino Day
Nearly 2,500 rhino horns, claimed to be the world’s largest such stockpile, were consigned to flames at Bokakhat in Assam on the World Rhino Day on Wednesday amid chanting of hymns and blowing of conches with the aim to dispel myths associated with hunting for rhino horns.
Total of 2,479 horns were burnt in six large iron pyres, specially made for the event, at a stadium located 240 km east of Guwahati. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, accompanied by several cabinet colleagues, lit the pyres remotely through drones.
“Through this event, we want to convey to the world that rhino horns are just a mass of compacted hair and there is no medicinal value to them. We want to urge people not to kill these rare animals or buy their horns based on superstitions or myths. We should allow rhinos to live and grow naturally,” Sarma said.
“Some are saying that instead of destroying the horns we should have sold them. But like the way we can’t sell seized drugs to earn revenue, the same way a government can’t earn money by selling rhino horns. In Africa, they have burned seized rhino horns, but the quantity is not that large. I think today we are setting a world record,” he added.
Sarma said from now on, all rhino horns recovered from animals dying naturally or during disasters and accidents will be burned every year and won’t be stored for long.
The burnt horns had been seized from poachers and traders of animal parts or recovered from dead rhinos in the state’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries since 1979 and were stored in 12 district treasuries.
While 2,479 of these were destroyed on Wednesday, 50 horns associated with pending court cases will be kept in treasuries and 94 others will be preserved for exhibition or educational purposes. The state government said it will set up a natural history museum near the Kaziranga national park to keep the preserved pieces.
Before destroying them, experts had verified the horns using scientific methods at the treasuries where they were kept. Each horn was cleaned, weighed, photographed, labeled with a unique barcode, DNA samples extracted and packed and sealed again in presence of several people.
“This is a rare event and since there’s god present in each being, we decided to consign the rhino horns to flames with Vedic rituals. The horns were verified in a very transparent manner before destroying them. We also want to convey a stern message to poachers not to dare target another rhino in Assam,” forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya said.
Of the total 2,623 horns kept in treasuries, 15 were of African rhinos (which have two horns) and 21 were found to be fakes. The longest horn measured 57 cm and the heaviest weighed 3 kilos. The average height and weight of the horns were 13.77 cm and 560 gm respectively. The total weight of the horns destroyed on Wednesday was 1,305 kilos.
Though there is no scientific basis, rhino horns form part of traditional medicine in some Asian countries including China and Vietnam. Each horn, which is made up of keratin (found in hair, nails), is valued over thousands of US dollars, leading to rampant killing of rhinos in Asia and Africa.
“Scientifically, rhino horns don’t 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. It’s good that the horns stored in Assam are being destroyed,” Rathin Barman, joint director, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) said.
“I congratulate the Assam government on the decision to burn the rhino horns and send the message that they don’t have any medicinal value. The horn looks best on a living animal and is not suited for any other purpose,” said Bibhab Talukdar, chief executive officer (CEO) of Aaranyak, a wildlife non-governmental organisation (NGO).
Assam is home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos. According to a 2018 census, there are nearly 2,650 rhinos in the state with around 2,400 of them concentrated in Kaziranga National Park.
Rhinos are listed in Schedule 1 of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as an endangered animal and there is an international ban on trade of rhino horns under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna).
The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 allows for destruction of wildlife parts (including rhino horn) under Section 39 (3). On September 16, the Assam cabinet had approved destruction of the horns kept in treasuries.
In recent years, in a bid to save rhinos from poaching, the state government has taken measures like arming forest personnel with sophisticated weapons and increased surveillance using drones. The measures have helped one-horned rhinos move up from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ category in IUCN’s red list of threatened species.