Assam declines exchange offer citing shortage of the animals at its facility

The Assam government has declined Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s request for a pair of greater one-horned rhinoceroses for the Vandalur zoo, in exchange for two gaurs. The reason given was that the Guwahati zoo had too few of the animals to not spare any.

State forest minister M.S.M. Anandan, who was at the Vandalur zoo on Wednesday said, “Though we have an enclosure ready for the rhinoceroses here, we were told that as the Guwahati zoo does not have enough rhinoceroses, the authorities there declined our request.”

The minister was reviewing ongoing projects at the zoo, including the upcoming Rs. 5-crore butterfly park and the Rs. 27-crore wild animals research centre. He also inspected newly-opened enclosures for birds of prey, including those for three white-bellied sea eagles and a male great pied hornbill.

Zoo director and chief conservator of forests KSSVP Reddy explained the various projects the zoo was undertaking to the minister, who was accompanied by principal conservator of forests, Gautam Dev, and chief wildlife warden, Vinod Kumar.

The exchange scheme came about in June, when, in a letter to Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Ms. Jayalalithaa, who is also the chairperson of the Zoo Authority of Tamil Nadu, asked for a pair of rhinos in exchange for gaurs.

“We have a sufficient number of Indian gaurs, which we can give in exchange to the government of Assam. The Indian gaur is one of our flagship species,” she had said in her letter.

The request was prompted by the fact that Vandalur zoo has not had a rhinoceros since 1989. The last male great one-horned rhinoceros the zoo had came to zoo in 1985, but died in 1989 due to an illness.

When the Chief Minister visited the zoo in March, to name seven tiger cubs, zoo authorities told her that there had been no rhinoceros – an endangered species, on the premises for over two decades.

This, taken into consideration with the fact that the zoo receives an average of 4,000 visitors per day, led to the request, an official said.

Once the letter was sent, zoo authorities kept a 1,500 sq. ft. enclosure ready in expectation of the rhinos’ arrival. Animal caretakers were also short-listed for the trip to Guwahati.

“We have to wait a few years now until the Guwahati zoo increases its rhino population from six to at least a dozen, before we make another request. We cannot get rhinos from the wild as that is against the Central Zoo Authority’s guidelines,” he added.

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