January 19, 2024: In a momentous triumph for wildlife conservation, Assam’s Laokhowa and Burachapori wildlife sanctuaries are witnessing the return of rhinos after a 40-year hiatus. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma recently announced this monumental development, attributing the resurgence of these iconic pachyderms to successful efforts in eradicating poaching and human encroachment.
The reappearance of rhinos in Laokhowa and Burachapori sanctuaries marks a remarkable turnaround for these protected areas, which had grappled with severe threats to biodiversity due to illegal activities and habitat degradation. Chief Minister Sarma expressed his delight, stating, “Happy to share that after 40 years, our iconic Rhinos have returned to Laokhowa and Burachapori. They have returned within one year of our successful anti-encroachment operation in the region.”
Efforts to reclaim the natural habitat have proven fruitful, with 51.7 square kilometers of forest cover restored through eviction drives conducted in 2023. Sonali Ghosh, the Director of Kaziranga National Park (KNP), confirmed the sighting of two rhinos in the Laokhowa-Burachapori sanctuaries, part of the expansive “Greater Kaziranga” landscape.
Overcoming Challenges for Rhino Conservation
Ghosh reflected on the sanctuaries’ past, noting that the Laokhowa-Burachapori forests once harbored a population of 45-50 rhinos until 1983 before falling victim to poaching activities. Subsequently, human-induced pressure led to habitat degradation, diminishing the grasslands. While occasional rhino sightings from neighboring regions occurred, a lasting presence in these sanctuaries remained elusive.
However, recent observations in November revealed the return of rhinos, possibly migrating from the second addition of Orang National Park and the revitalized areas of Arimari, following the eviction drives. Beyond the rhino population, the sanctuaries house a habitat accommodating ten tigers, underscoring the significance of restoration efforts.
Last year’s eviction drive, conducted from February 13 to 15, cleared 1,282 hectares of forest land and 817 hectares of unsurveyed government land. To further fortify conservation endeavors, Ghosh highlighted the filling of 75 frontline positions, including deputy ranger roles, demonstrating the government’s commitment to strengthening the landscape and rejuvenating the forest’s lost splendor.
Commitment to Conservation
The success at Laokhowa-Burachapori sanctuaries signifies a pivotal moment in conservation history, celebrating the revival of a once-dwindling population. It underscores the collective efforts to combat poaching and reclaim habitats essential for preserving endangered species.
The successful eviction drives in 2023 and strategic wildlife management initiatives have rejuvenated the sanctuaries and paved the way for a harmonious coexistence between wildlife and local communities.
As Assam welcomes back these majestic creatures, sustained vigilance, community engagement, and proactive measures remain imperative to ensure the continued protection and flourishing of the state’s diverse wildlife. The return of rhinos to Laokhowa and Burachapori sanctuaries stands as a testament to the resilience of nature when met with dedicated conservation efforts.