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Trapped on sandbar, rhino rescued after 7 days

Sushanta Talukdar
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TO SAFETY:Assam Forest Department officials move the tranquillised rhinoceros on to a vehicle at Uparhali village, some 40 km west of Guwahati, on Sunday. The animal was stranded on a sandbar in the Brahmaputra for a week.— PHOTO: AFP
TO SAFETY:Assam Forest Department officials move the tranquillised rhinoceros on to a vehicle at Uparhali village, some 40 km west of Guwahati, on Sunday. The animal was stranded on a sandbar in the Brahmaputra for a week.— PHOTO: AFP

After seven long days, a rhinoceros from central Assam’s Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, which had strayed from its flooded habitat to the Rani Chapori sandbar in the Brahmaputra in lower Assam’s Kamrup district, was rescued by the Environment and Forest Department on Sunday afternoon. Earlier in the day, some residents of the Palasbari area sighted it and informed the Forest Department officials.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Suresh Chand told The Hindu that the rhino would be kept in the Guwahati zoo for some time to aid its recovery, after which it would be taken back to Pabitora.

Mr. Chand said the rhino was tranquillised at 4.30 p.m. after the logistics, which included three elephants, two excavators, one platform, a crate, two trucks, a tractor and a crane, were in place. As the effects of tranquillisation remain for two hours, the rhino was dragged to the crate on a platform for about 50 metres. This was quite challenging as there was a lot of water around. Initially a tractor was used to drag the rhino, but it failed. Then an excavator was used, which was replaced by a second excavator after it developed a snag.

Mr. Chand said etorphine was used to tranquillise the rhino. The drug is manufactured only in South Africa and is procured by the Department following a long-winding process.

Tranquillising this rhino was, however, different. Normally during such translocations, time and place can be decided according to convenience. But in Sunday’s rescue operation, the Department did not have much flexibility, as the topography of the site made it challenging for the entire team.

Once the rhino was put inside the crate, a veterinarian administered a dose of riverzine, a drug used to revive the tranquillised rhino.

Assam Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain oversaw the rescue operation. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, now in New Delhi, congratulated the rescue team comprising forest officials, veterinarians and NGO activists for successfully rescuing the rhino.

The Indian Air Force had earlier come forward at the request of the Assam government to airlift the rhino when it was first sighted on the Rani Chapori sandbar near Sualkuchi and also carried out a recce as the department had initially planned to airlift the animal. However, as there was water all around on the sandbar, the department had to postpone the operation and decided to wait for a few more days.


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