Rhino drug reaches Assam

Guwahati, May 24 : The Assam forest department will finally receive a consignment of ethorphine — the immobilising drug for rhinos — which eluded it for nearly two years.

The drug was cleared by customs at Delhi airport and will be reaching Guwahati shortly.

“It has been a learning experience for all of us as we had to pass through numerous channels to get the drug. It can be an excellent case study for anybody conducting rhino translocation in India,” Amit Sharma, co-ordinator of rhino conservation, WWF-India, told The Telegraph.

Sharma said the authorities were confident that the second phase of rhino translocation under the Indian Rhino Vision could begin by the end of the year.

Assam has set up a task force to manage the translocation, which is a collaborative effort with WWF-India and the International Rhino Foundation. The second phase of the translocation hit a hurdle when the Wildlife Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, a South African company, could not supply ethorphine to the forest department.

The Central Bureau of Narcotics had not placed an indent (an order) for it with the International Narcotics Control Board.

The state forest department immediately wrote to the Central Bureau of Narcotics to place an indent, as the import permit was expiring on May 9.

Sources said it was impossible to buy the drug in wholesale as it could be used for only one year. The funding agencies were anxious to see the second phase started, as it required raising huge amounts of money.

The staff have been trained and the logistics like crates are also ready for the translocation. “Any further delay would have led to more problems for the programme itself,” a source in the forest department said.

The forest department has also got an import licence in its name.

Though 18 rhinos will be translocated in the second phase, at least six to eight will be transferred by the end of the year. The goal of Indian Rhino Vision 2020 is to increase the total rhino population in Assam from 2,000 to 3,000 by the year 2020 and to ensure these rhinos are distributed over at least seven protected areas.

The first two rhinos from Pobitora to be translocated to Manas have been doing well for two years.The rhinos are staying at the Bansbari range of Manas National Park.“The two have acclimatised nicely and are being monitored,” a field official in Manas said.The ages of the rhinos are six and seven years.

Three other rhinos rehabilitated under a Wildlife Trust of India programme are staying in the same area.

An 8-km electric fence has been erected to stop rhinos and other wild animals from straying.

For the first phase of the translocation in 2008, the department had procured the drug from Singapore with the help of an international agency.