Domesticated cattle grazing in sanctuary pose threat to rhinos in Assam

Marigaon (Assam), Jan.2: The one-horned rhinoceros of Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam's Marigaon district are under constant threat of fatal diseases from the huge number of domesticated cattle grazing in the fields of the sanctuary.

Biblab Talukdar, a wildlife activist, said apart from feeding on the grass, the cows could possibly transmit complex of bovine diseases to the rhinos.

"Definitely yes, Pabitora is regarded as (one having) the highest density of the rhinos, so, 3000 to 5000 cattle also grazing along with rhinos are definitely posing some sort of threat to the rhinos. Not only with regards to food but also in disseminating or the possible spread of the diseases from the domestic cattle to wild rhinos," said Talukdar.

"So, I think that needs to be controlled as soon as possible. And I think this should be the highest priority for the (sanctuary) management (and concerned) authorities," he added.

Another problem faced by the forest officials is that due to shortage of grasslands in the sanctuary, often the rhinos are forced to move towards villages on the outskirts of their habitat.

Such straying off their usual habitat not only expose them to diseases from domesticated cattle but also become easy targets for poachers.

Mukul Tamuli, a ranger, Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, did not blame the villagers for these developments since there are no grazing grounds for their cattle.

"There is no grazing reserve here and since villagers also have the cows and then they also need food for them, so where will they keep them as there is no grazing reserve available here for them. Only this sanctuary is there, which was earlier a grazing reserve before 1971," said Tamuli.

"So, that is why when villagers leave their cattle for grazing they automatically come here in the sanctuary. So, this is the big problem here, now we are installing power fencing," he added.

Looking at the seriousness of the problem, forest officials are now installing electric fencing around the sanctuary.

Pobitara Wildlife Sanctuary with over 85 rhinos has the highest density of the one horned rhino in the world, all within an area of just 38.81 square kilometres. By Peter Alex Todd