Three lifeless rhinos have risen from the ashes of the most conspicuous part of the herbivore in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday unveiled a memorial to the greater one-horned rhino and the forest guards the 1,300 sq. km tiger reserve owes its existence to.
The ash collected from the burning of a stockpile of 2,479 rhino horns was used in the concrete mix to create the life-size rhinos – a 10.5 ft long and 6 ft tall male, an 11 ft by 5.6 ft female and a 3.5 ft by 1.5 ft calf.
“History was created when hundreds of rhino horns, stored in 12 treasuries across the State for decades, were consigned to flames on September 22, 2021, to send a strong signal to those involved in illegal wildlife trade,” Mr. Sarma said.
The stockpile of horns was also burnt to demonstrate that rhino horns have no medicinal value, he added.
“The ash collected has been used to create these three rhinos immortalising the efforts of those who selflessly protect Assam’s rhinos,” the Chief Minister said.
Jatindra Sarma, Kaziranga’s director said 128.56 kg of ash collected after the burning a year ago went into making the three rhinos. The rhino horn ash was not used for the statues of an equal number of forest guards, many of whom have died in the line of duty, some combatting poachers.
The memorial named ‘Abode of the Unicorns’, which took six months to complete, is at Mihimukh, the main entrance to the park in Kohora, one of the five ranges of the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division. Kohora is about 200 km east of Guwahati.
Following an outcry over alleged sale of stored rhino horns and their replacement with fake ones, the Assam government had formed a team of experts to study 2,623 horns stored in the treasuries since 1979. These were seized from poachers and smugglers and collected from animals that died naturally.
Six large iron pyres were specially built to set the horns on fire with the help of drones.
Among those destroyed were 21 fake horns seized from smugglers and traders and 15 African rhino horns brought from the Assam State Zoo in Guwahati.
The total weight of the 2,479 genuine horns and the 21 fake ones destroyed was 1,305.25 kg while those set aside for preservation was 131.05 kg.
Park officials said the horns that continue to be in the treasuries include 29 that are caught in court cases and 94 others, including the heaviest at 3.05 kg, that have been preserved for exhibition or educational purposes.
According to the latest estimate in March, Kaziranga has 2,613 rhinos.