On the evening of 13 November, four gunshots shattered the silence of Indiaâ€™s Manas National Park. The forest personnel, though feeling stressed and demoralized by the recent rise in militancy in the region, didnâ€™t hesitate â€“ they rushed in the direction of the gunshots.
At the same time, a rhino monitoring team consisting of armed forest guards and veterinarians rushed to the area as well. The two teams scoured the region for any visible signs of poachers or injured animals, but the sun was setting. Before long, they were forced to abandon their investigation. But it did seem as if their quick response had forced the would-be poachers to flee the area and give up pursuit of their target.
The following day, the monitoring team returned to the area and managed to track down the rhino. His erratic movements clearly indicated that the animal was injured. The veterinary staff, assisted by WWF team members, tranquilized the rhino for closer inspection and confirmed that the wounded rhino â€“ identified as Rhino 13 â€“ had suffered at least two gunshots.
Lead veterinarian, Dr Kushal Sarma, conducted emergency surgery to extract the bullets that appeared to have injured the rhinoâ€™s neck, back and ear. After several hours of surgery in the field, and numerous attempts made by Dr Sarma, Dr Bhaskar Choudhury and Dr Prabhat Basumatary, the team was unable to extract the bullet that had embedded in the rhinoâ€™s neck folds. The rhino was given long-lasting antibiotics and other medication following the surgery.
Thanks to the quick response of the forest personnel and the skill of the veterinarians, lucky #13 will pull through.
Manas National Park was once home to hundreds of rhinos, all of which were wiped out during the ethnic unrest that took place between 1988 and 2003. The park is the first of several target sites selected for the translocation of wild rhino populations from other areas under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 programme. This effort will help set up a new founding population for the species.
Experts estimate that based on the present population and current rate of poaching incidents (four per year), the rhino population of Manas would be lost again in approximately 10 years. The goal of a viable breeding rhino population in Manas will only be achievable under conditions of zero poaching, which could lead to a healthy population of over 60 rhinos in the next 30 years.
In the midst of these efforts, the protection or death of even a single rhino can have significant implications for the long-term conservation efforts in Manas.