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Assam government sends the message that rhino horns have no value, burns 2479 horns on the occasion of World Rhino Day

The horns, primarily seized from poacher and smugglers, and also collected from rhinos that died naturally in the state’s forests, were preserved at various treasuries in various districts for several decades.

On the occasion of World Rhino Day today, the Assam government destroyed 2479 rhino horns by burning them at a ceremony in Bokakhat, attended by chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The horns, primarily seized from poachers and smugglers, and also collected from rhinos that died naturally in the state’s forests, were preserved at various treasuries in various districts for several decades.

Before burning the horns in six big gas chambers, religious rituals were performed as the last rites of the horns and the rhinos that owned them. After the rituals, the gas chambers were torched amid the chants of hymns and sounds of conches.

Addressing the gathering at the event, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that after rhinos die, they are buried. But to prevent horns from being stolen from the bodies of dead rhinos by poachers, they are cut and preserved. Now with the burning of the horns, their last rites will be completed.

Responding to the criticism of the move by some people saying that govt could have earned good money by selling the horns, the CM said that just like we don’t sell the kidneys after the death of our near and dear ones, we can’t sell the body parts of wildlife after their death, which is also illegal. He further added that if the govt decides to sell the horns, it will show that the govt acknowledges that the horns have value, but the govt wants to give a completely opposite message, that the horns have no value, medicinal or otherwise.

Himanta Biswa Sarma said the horns have value only when it is attached to a living rhino. After death, they have no value, and the last rites of their mortal remains must be done. It is notable that a rhino horn is just a bundle of hairs, it is made up of keratin, a protein found in fingernails and hair. As such, it does not have any medicinal value, despite the superstitions associated with it.

The decision to burn the rhino horns, worth crores in the international smuggling market for wildlife parts, was taken by the state cabinet earlier this month. The Assam government had decided to burn the horns, along with other wildlife parts, according to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, in order to bust various myths associated with them. By this step, the govt wants to convey the message that the horns do not have any medicinal or miracle properties associated with them in various countries, especially in China and Vietnam.

The 2479 horns which were burnt were part of the total 2623 horns stocked at the treasuries in the state. The balance 144 horns are being preserved for various purposes. 50 of them are associated with ongoing court cases, and therefore are being preserved as evidence for those cases. Among the rest 94, some will be preserved for academic and research purposes, while some will be kept for public display at a museum that is coming up at Kaziranga National Park.

All the horns went through an extensive verification process, including preservation of DNA samples, before the decision to destroy them was taken. The verification process was conducted at various treasuries according to the decision taken by a Verification Committee constituted by the state government in 2016 to study the horns stored in the state. During this process, the horns were cleaned, examined by forensic experts, and were assigned Unique Identification Numbers with barcodes, before packing, labelling and keeping them in sealed boxes.

The verification process also included drilling out DNA samples for preservation and future study. Horns to be preserved were also selected during the examination process. It is expected that bigger and heavier horns, and horns with unique characteristics will be preserved. During the verification of the horns, it was found that the longest horn stored in Assam measured 51.5 cm in height, with a weight of 2.5 kg. Kept in Guwahati treasury, it was Found in Laokhowa sanctuary in Nagaon district. The heaviest horn weighed 3.05 kg with the height of 36 cm, which was kept in Bokakhat, found in the Bagori range of Kaziranga in 1982. It is believed to be the world’s heaviest rhino horn.

Fake horns

There are also allegations that some fake rhino horns were kept in the treasuries, and some fake horns were indeed found. However, the verification committee has not released any number. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma confirmed that all the horns burnt today are real horns. Several of the horns kept in Barpeta treasury were badly damaged by water, as the roof there had leakage. People said those horns are fake because they had become soft, but the verification confirmed they are real and had become soft due to water damage.

Along with real horns, fake horns are traded in the market, which is made from various things like wood and bamboo. There is a joke among forest officials that after a rhino is poached in Assam, four fake horns surface in the market.

As the exchange of banned items like rhino horns are done in the dark of the night, people get cheated by such fake horns, and after finding out the same, the victims cheat others to recover the money, and thus, even the fake horns keep changing hands in exchange for large amounts of money.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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