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Pobitora: On saving the enchanting rhinos

One-horned rhinos, for which Assam is famous for, are an endangered species.

 |  Life  |  3-minute read |   13-04-2015
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pobitora-1_041315125739.jpg Seeking refuge from Delhi’s unrelenting heat and cacophony, I spent the weekend in Pobitora wildlife sanctuary. Located 52 kilometers from Guwahati, the capital of Assam, the nature reserve is small at 38.8 square kilometers, compared to other such sanctuaries within the country. Within minutes of entering the reserve, I came across this mother rhino and her calf.

pobitora-2_041315125918.jpg The aforementioned mother rhino preparing to charge the Gypsy I was in. We lurched forward, stopping at a safe distance. She gave up but continued to keep a wary eye on our vehicle and its occupants. Despite their bulk, rhinos have been clocked at speeds of up to 48 kilometers (30 miles) an hour.

pobitora-3_041315125943.jpg Pobitora is in Mayong in the Morigaon district of Assam. Mayong is known for its black magic practitioners, many of whom had died out. I was told that the black magic practised was for the collective good of the villagers for example, to keep them safe from tigers. Grassland comprises 65 per cent of the reserve, with woodland and wetland making up 20 per cent and 15 per cent of the remainder.

pobitora-4_041315010054.jpg A lesser adjutant stork.

pobitora-5_041315010120.jpg A rhino’s hide with skin folds gives it an armour-plated appearance. One-horned rhinos, for which Assam is famous for, are an endangered species. In 1975, there were only 600 individuals surviving in the wild globally. By 2012, thanks to conservation efforts, the number has increased to more than 3000 in the Terai Arc landscape of India and Nepal. There are more than a hundred one-horned rhinos in Pobitora.

pobitora-6_041315010147.jpg Elephant safaris provide one with the opportunity to get up close to the rhinos. I rode a seven-year-old male, the mahout sitting astride in front of me. Elephants can live up to a hundred years.

pobitora-7_041315010216.jpg Grazing for food, a rhino uses its prehensile lip to grasp the tall grass. Rhinos also feed on fruit, leaves and aquatic plants. They forage in the early morning and evening to avoid the heat. This morning, I managed to wake up a pair of slumbering rhinos, alarmed at the approach of my elephant ride.

pobitora-8_041315010248.jpg A fully grown 30-year-old male. Adults can tip the scales at 1800-2500 kilogrammes, and stand tall at 1.75 to 2 meters. They are good swimmers, and can dive and feed underwater.

pobitora-9_041315010349.jpg A common mynah pecking at the ear of a calf. Cattle roam freely inside the nature reserve.

pobitora-10_041315010419.jpg An orchid. This is not a well-known fact but many orchids are epiphytes – growing upon or attached to a living plant, often high up in the forest.

pobitora-11_041315010453.jpg Pobitora is home to 80 species of butterflies, 41 species of fish and 8 species of frogs. Civet cats, leopards, monitor lizards, pangolins, wild boars can also be spotted in Pobitora. In this picture, wild boars can be seen in the distance.

pobitora-12_041315010522.jpg Two storks feeding. More than 300 species of birds have been sighted in the reserve, including endangered ones. Admittedly, I was more focused on the rhinos but did spy bulbuls, drongos, geese, kingfishers, lapwings, tree pies and whistling teals. A quiet retreat, well worth the time and effort.

Writer

Eirliani Abdul Rahman Eirliani Abdul Rahman

The writer is Executive Director of non-profit YAKIN (Youth, Adult survivors & Kin In Need) and Director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

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