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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

Horn Of Plenty

Kaziranga turns 100 and celebrates the rhino's return from near-extinction with a party in the grasslands

Horn Of Plenty
Swapan Nayak
Horn Of Plenty
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53
After a few million years of chomping along the grasslands that stretched from Pakistan to Bengal, you can't blame the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros for wondering if this party is unforgivably belated. Late by a 50 million years. That was when the rhinocerotidae family of this behemoth appeared on earth. But then, the Kaziranga Centenary Celebration is not about evolution. It's about celebrating survival. Of the rhinos making it to this millennium, after hunters in Kaziranga decimated their population down to a dozen by 1905. Of staying alive, even as the Brahmaputra's floods claim their calves and old (129 rhinos drowned here in '88).

Today, Kaziranga National Park (KNP), in Assam, is home to the largest surviving population of India's rhinos. In these floodplains of the Brahmaputra, 1,700 of these mega-herbivores still stare out of the grasses, indicating their return from near-extinction. Here, you behold a rhino cloaked in silt—rising from the beels (wallows) with egrets and jungle mynahs riding its shoulders—as it lumbers out in search of tender lokasa grass. Its distinctive grey battle-tank body visible to all who come to this 860 sq km park. With this regal sighting guaranteed, who would believe that only about 2,000 Rhinoceros Unicornis exist in India. It is an "endangered species" listed in the Wildlife Protection Act. Besides KNP, six satellite populations of rhinos exist in small numbers.

Unlike the tiger, the target of legal shikars till the '70s, the ban on rhino-hunting came earlier. After Lady Curzon, wife of the viceroy of India, came to see the rhino and only saw its hoof marks. "The crucial moment was when her mahout, Nigona Shikari, said 'your sahibs are killing them as game'," says Nitin Gokhale, co-author Kaziranga: the Rhino Centenary, to be published this week. She persuaded Lord Curzon to propose this as a...
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