Rhino at Kaziranga | file photo

Two rhinos have returned to the Laokhowa and Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam after almost a 40-year gap following a successful anti-encroachment operation, officials said on January 5.

Taking on X, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said: “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. 51.7 sq km of forest cover was retrieved from the evictions in 2023.”

Sonali Ghosh, director of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, said that the Laokhowa-Burachapori complex in Nagaon district had, until 1983, a population of 45-50 rhinos.

“They were poached out and after that, there was degradation of grassland habitat due to anthropogenic pressure. Stray rhinos from the north bank (Orang National Park) and eastern side (Kaziranga) were known to enter through the Brahmaputra chapori areas but never stayed for long”.

“Since November 2023, rhinos are now being sighted in the 1st addition of Burachapori and Laokhowa WLS, respectively. Both rhinos have likely entered the protected area through the second addition of Orang National Park and through the recently restored (evicted) areas of Arimari. The eviction drive was carried out on February 13, 14 and 15, 2023, which led to a clearing of 1282 hectares of forest land and 817 hectares of un-surveyed government land,” Sonali Ghosh said.

She further added that the government has sent in new recruits and filled in vacancies and 75 frontline positions (Dy Ranger, Forester 1, Forest Guard) have been posted in the protected area.

“Other than rhinos, the protected area also has a record of 10 tigers, indicating a good prey base of herbivores. It is also one of the few protected areas in the country to have an excellent habitat of freshwater mangroves,” she added.

The official further added that the government is committed to “strengthening the landscape, restoring the lost glory of this historic protected area,” and “ensuring habitat connectivity” between the Rhino range of Orang-Laokhowa-Burachapori-Kaziranga landscapes.

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