Too many cattle robbing rhinos of nutrition in ‘Mini Kaziranga’

Death of two rhinos points to crisis in Assam’s Pobitora

December 10, 2020 01:26 am | Updated 01:27 am IST - Guwahati

A pair of one-horned rhinos and cattle graze side by side.

A pair of one-horned rhinos and cattle graze side by side.

Too many cattle are robbing the one-horned rhinos of Assam’s Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, referred to as ‘Mini Kaziranga’ for similar features, of their nutritious food.

This has been confirmed by the death of two rhinos whose alimentary canals had a high load of worms because of nutritional stress caused by dry reeds and other such “junk food” of the wilderness, veterinarians said.

One of the factors behind the crisis of nutritional grass in Pobitora is the competition from some 10,000 cattle that graze on the fringes of the sanctuary measuring 38.81 sq km on paper but with only 16 sq km for an estimated 102 rhinos to inhabit.

Non-rejuvenation of nutritious grass due to change in flood pattern has also combined with the expansion of woodland in the sanctuary, leaving the rhinos with less than 8 sq km of grassland to feed on.

“Our team that conducted autopsy found bad quality food and high load of worms that made the rhinos, one a calf and the other old, die of weakness. This is a serious problem compounded by the grazing cattle, about 2,000 of which have become resident herds, moving out only if the sanctuary is flooded,” Kushal Kowar Sarma of Guwahati’s College of Veterinary Science said.

Amit Sahai, Assam’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), said Pobitora was not facing a food crisis per se, but malnutrition because of non-availability of grasses that were palatable and nutritious to the rhinos.

“We have constituted an expert committee comprising leading veterinarians and rhino experts. The panel has been given a month to assess if malnutrition or any pathogenic problems caused the deaths and come up with a prescription for us to work on,” he told The Hindu .

The Forest Department, he added, had also asked the Morigaon district authority to contain the population of the cattle that had provided an unhealthy competition to the rhinos as well as some 100 wild buffaloes of the sanctuary.

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