View Full Version : The legend of Manas- Indian One-horned Rhinos

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:45 PM
"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things." - WALT WHITMAN.

I read this poem in the foreword of the book named “Beast and man in India”. And it is a fact that they all are living peacefully in a self-sufficient manner. They never have any grudge over the uncertainty in their daily lives and the day to day competitions in their lives. They never start lying after they get up in the morning. Neither they shed any tears for the sin they commit in their lives. They don’t show any bits of extravaganza for any Gods. None of them are dissatisfied with their lives. They don’t run after the material wealth as we do. But this pursuit of material wealth is what keeps our true peace of mind and happiness at bay.

Every time I see the Rhinos this poem comes to my mind. They seem to be very similar to the “Sages” who are elaborately described and depicted in the scriptures; mostly, if not all. He has no Gods and does not pursue to find one either. The vast expansion of the existence and its complicacies are mostly outside the boundaries of his mind. His life which is guided and dictated by his mind is very much like what poet WHITMAN has described in his poem. They seem to have attained the life of a sage who have renounced all the wealthy possessions even though they are living earthly lives. On the other hand the humans are immersed their lives in sensual enjoyment, hoarding material wealth, in vice and virtue and in physical comforts. But the destiny of the lives of all the wild animals now are laying in the hands of this humankind only. Was this thing inevitable? Things should not have been the way it is now as per how the earth has come to its maturity and as per the law of nature

The history of the one horned Rhinos in the Indian sub-continent is a glorious one. In the fourteenth century A.D. their approximate population was more than 0.45 million. Timur Lung was known to have hunted Rhinos in Kashmiri regions. These Rhinos lived along the foothills of the Himalayas from the present day Pakistan in the west to the present day Myanmar in the east. There were vast riverine grasslands in the basins of all the rivers of this sub-continent except for those in the south India. They lived in those areas. Their number have been fast dwindling in the past five hundred years. Except in the north eastern part of India and some north Indian states these One Horned Rhinos are not to be found anywhere in the world. Their present day population stands at approximately 3500. Since the last seventy to eighty years after a lot of efforts and implementation of different wildlife conservation laws this number was prevented from coming down. Should it have happened like this?

In my opinion, the manner in which we spearheaded the attack on them in the last five hundred years, it is a wonder that they have not yet become extinct by now. Starting from the Mughal Empire there have come an onset of the agricultural revolutions from the Punjab in the west to the Gangetic river basins in the north. Even the river basins of the central India was not outside the purview of this agricultural revolutions. Most of the alluvial grasslands by the banks of the rivers which were meant for the grazing fields of these one horned Rhinos were categorically converted into agricultural lands. As a result, the whole population of them were wiped out from the western, central and northern part of India. Then came the British Raj. During the last one hundred years of the British Raj the remaining part of the north eastern India where still some Rhinos lived were ransacked.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:47 PM
Sometimes, on the pretext of constructing new roads, for constructing new residential areas to cater for the growing human populations, for agricultural needs or sometimes just for the fun of killing playfully, the One Horned Rhinos were mercilessly attacked and killed. Along with this the climatic changes worked as a catalytic action against the struggle for survival of these Rhinos. That consisted sometimes of draught or of unprecedented inundations, changes of weather temperature and such other things. In spite of so many adversities it is a wonder that there some number of them are still alive at present in our country. A startling revelation came out from the “Indian Rhino Vision 2020” where it was admitted that the most eminent danger for the survival of the one horned Rhinos in India are the poachers.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:49 PM
The history of the Rhinos in the Manas National Park of Assam is full of ups and downs. Manas has time and again been badly affected by fierce tussles among different political groups. In 1987 a mass agitation started demanding a separate “Bodoland” in the areas adjoining Manas National Park. That turned into a violent shape within a very short period of time. That time there were still a considerable number of Rhinos living there and the number would be 80, if not more. The situation there deteriorated very fast. Within two years these areas went haywire. The Bodo insurgents resorted to arson on various camps one after another from Kokrajhar in the west to Udalguri on the east. Rifles were snatched. Hundreds of Bodo insurgents infiltrated into the forest areas and illegally occupied lands there. They could not be evicted by the government afterwards. Thereby, the core areas of the Manas National Park turned into a safe hiding place for those Bodo insurgents. No one could estimate as to how many Rhinos were hunted by the insurgents during that period.

Some of us may remember the Range officer named Ibrahim Ali Khan. He was the one who played an instrumental role for upholding the interest of the wildlife of Manas during that period. But ultimately he was abducted and was murdered two months after his abduction in the Bangtol forest. The Bangtol forest does not exist anymore. Many people died during the bloody fight for a separate Bodoland which continued for about one and half decades. No Bodoland formed at the end, but the Rhino population were almost wiped out from the region. Though there should not have been any link between the Bodo insurgency and the wiping out of the Rhino population in the forest, but in this case the fierce political battle took a heavy toll on the Rhinos inhabiting there. The Rhino horns are and were very precious then and fetched a lot of money to the insurgents if they could manage to get one. The bounty were not only used for funding for the insurgent works but also were used for repayment of loans of the princesses.

In the month of September 1993 a princes of Bhutan was caught and arrested in Chiang Kai-shek International airport as she was travelling with 22 Rhino horns. The total weight of the horns was 14.9 Kg. As she was questioned she disclosed that she had purchased those horns from a businessman who collected those horns possibly from Assam. It took two years for her to collect all those 22 horns from him. The investigators came across some more astonishing facts during the questioning sessions. The princes was going to Taiwan to sell those horns so as to repay her loans.

The princes had many trade setups and some of which were in Phuentsholing of Bhutan which is not very far from Assam. Therefore the source of these horns being the Kaziranga and Manas National Parks could not be dismissed right away. And the relation between the illegal hunting and some Bhutanese influential persons being involved with it could not be stroked out completely. That princes was Cambridge educated. She had a diplomatic passport though she should not have one because the Bhutanese government did not even approve Taiwan as a sovereign state till then. We all know that one can evade security checks easily at the airports when one possesses a diplomatic passport. The princes tried to misuse this law for her crooked benefit. It must have taken her great courage and strong connection with other traffickers to collect all these 22 horns and to travel with these horn to some foreign country. When an educated and influential person like her performs this type of actions against some endangered species like the One Horned Rhinos it becomes very difficult for the species to survive. But, things should not have happened in this manner.

The main reason for which the Rhinos have been killed so far is for the preparation of aphrodisiacs, the main ingredients of which are believed to be collected from the Rhino horns. The medicine manufactured with ingredients from Rhino horns, mainly Indian one horned Rhino horns are sold in hefty prices in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam. In the present day traffickers’ market each kilograms of the Rhino horns is priced anywhere between rupees forty to seventy Lakh. That is why the traffickers risk their lives to go and grab Rhino horns by any means. People say that two male Rhinos survived near the Banshbari Range only due to their unusual behaviours. It is a habit of the Rhinos to repeatedly come to the same spot to defecate. So if these spots are correctly identified it becomes very easy to locate them. In eastern India most of the poaching of Rhinos are perpetrated in this way. Those two male Rhinos of the Banshbari Range survived from the clutches of the poachers as they did not follow this habit.

It is a habit of the Rhinos to repeatedly come to the same spot to defecate

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:51 PM
The temperament, the body language of the Rhinos and their relation with other living animals around them have always aroused tremendous interest and curiosity among us. In Manas, I have noticed that as a Rhino walks in the grassland, the Mynas become very active close to the legs of the Rhino. As the heavy legs of the Rhino fall on the ground the small flies and small insects lurking inside the grass start moving here and there and it gives the Mynas some easy chances to feed on them.

Small flies and other insects live on the skin or in the crease of thick skin or in earholes of the Rhinos; they lay eggs there. The Egrets and the Mynas feed on these. The Rhinos also become very happy due to this. They can get rid of these parasitic flies and insects for free!

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:52 PM
Here frogs are waiting to catch flies that are stuck on Rhino’s skin when the Rhino submerges its body into a pond in a hot day at Manas.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:53 PM
Very recently, in an investigation in South Africa it has been known that the Black Rhinos eavesdrop on the chirping of the oxpecker birds sitting on their heads or on their backs. The vision of the Rhinos is very weak. They can hardly see when and how an imminent danger (read poacher) will pounce on them. But the birds sitting on their backs can do that very easily and, in that case their voice changes. The Rhinos can decipher the meanings of the slight changes of the voice of the birds and can take precautions beforehand. They move away to some safer places.

In Manas I used to see a Rhino almost every day. He fiercely fought with another male to win the heart of his female mate. During that fight the other male Rhino badly wound from the bottom of its belly to the mid portion of its hind legs. It was a life threatening matter to it. The forest officials tried heart and soul to save the Rhino from dying. They tranquilized it and dressed the wound periodically. As the Rhino recovered to some extent it frequently came back to the camp areas near the fencing.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:54 PM
The Mynas pecked and feed on the parasites from the spot of the wound. The Rhino must have felt tremendous pain when the Mynas pecked on the wound. But I have never seen it to prevent the Mynas from doing this great favour to it.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:55 PM
Perhaps it felt very close with the forest officials. It came near the camp in early morning, looked here and there as if enquiring, have anyone got up from bed so early in the morning? The forest people came out in the veranda and had a look on the Rhino.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:56 PM
At times it came to drink water at the well of the desolate camp in the late afternoons.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:57 PM
And in another camp I saw a Rhino grazing on grass with its cub carelessly while a forest official was happily taking a bath with the well water. There were no barbed wires separating the Rhinos and the forest person.

This is an example of relation between a human and the rhinos. These forest officials are human beings and the Bhutanese princes is also a human being. Another human being was The Maharaja of Coochbehar, who proudly declared that in between 1870 to 1907, within thirty seven years he killed a total number of two hundred and seven rhinos from the greater areas of Manas.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 07:59 PM
The process of translocation of Rhinos in Manas started on 2006. Translocation is a process of relocating Rhinos from one place of a forest to another place or to some other forest which is suitable for their living. In this method a total eighteen number of Rhinos have been relocated so far from Kaziranga and Pobitora National Park to Manas National Park. Starting almost from zero the number of Rhinos in Manas at present is forty eight including those two male rhinos of the Bansbari Range. The WWF has made a commendable effort in this translocating process. We must also mention the great contribution of our forest officials making in this matter. The translocation of the Rhinos is really a time taking and complicated process. It is especially very difficult to succeed in collecting orphan Rhino cubs or collecting cubs from flooded areas and raising and looking after them properly until they become fully grown-ups and then translocating them. In many Parks around the world such type of translocation efforts have not borne any fruit. But Manas has done that and the world knows it. But there are miles to go still now. The present day Manas can be the home to at least 100 Rhinos. And, of course, if and only if we really want that to happen.

We are now worried about the geographic and climatic changes of the Manas National Park. The main reason of this is certainly the endless greed and recklessness of the humankind. A huge number of River Dams are proposed to be constructed with an intention to produce hydroelectric power. You will be frightened to see the list:-

1. Kuri chhu of Mongar district. (Chhu means river in Djonkha Language). The Dam became operational in 2001. Height 55 mtrs. Production capacity 60 MW. Kuri chhu has merged with Manas river at it right hand side

2. Mangde chhu Dam of Trongsa district has become operational recently. Production capacity 720 MW. Height 101.50 mtrs. Mangde chhu has merged with Manas river at it right hand side

3. Kulong chhu Dam. Construction work has started in 2014. The project is expected to complete very soon height 95 mtrs. Production capacity 600 MW. Kulong chhu has merged with Manas river at it right hand side

The list does not end here. The proposed plan of the Bhutan government in the next five years are like this:-

1. Chamkhar chhu Dam. It is a plan for joint construction of two large Dams having production capacities of 1397 MW and of 857 MW respectively. Height 108 mtrs.

2. Kuri Gongri Dam. Production capacity 2640 MW. Height 250 mtrs.

In 2004 there was a terrible flood in Manas only due to the excessive water released from the Kuri Chhu Dam. Since then the topography of Manas has undergone many unwanted changes. The river has shifted towards the Banshbari Range by about four kilometres. In the near future during a full rainy season, if water from all the river dams are released simultaneously it is easily predictable that it will just wreak havoc in the Manas region and what will happen to the lives of these Rhinos can be easily imagined. The different names of the rivers are actually names of the same river at different locations. All the rivers have originated in the Bhutan Hill and have flown through the Manas Biosphere Reserve. All these rivers together have given rise to a river system. Restricting the natural flow of water of any one of the river of this river system at upstream will certainly have an adverse effect on the river downstream basins in the plains. This river system is the lifeline of the Manas and is the key factor of the ecosystem of the flora and fauna of Manas. The grassland of Manas which nourishes and feed the Rhinos can be washed away at any moment. Due to the construction of dams the rivers may change the course their route very fast. The erosion of banks of the rivers are by itself a matter of great concern. The construction of river dams will greatly increase the chances of this erosion of river banks. Once this happens, what will remain in Manas for these poor creatures that will save them from being extinct! If every year the fringe villages of the forest start being inundated what will happen to the villagers! In that case it will not be surprising that the some helpless, desperate villagers will then resort to their old habit of poaching the Rhinos to make a living. What will be the consequences then?

River bank erosion of Manas

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 08:00 PM
Today most of the large river dams in all over the world are a flop. The benefits that the river dams have brought to us are in most cases much less than the damages that they have inflicted to the Mother Nature. Still people go on constructing river dams. They construct higher and higher dams in the hope of getting more and more electricity. On one fine morning a man who has immersed himself in vice, virtue, hoarding of material wealth, physical comfort, stands at that height and looks down upon a “Sage” who has stooped down its head over a small patch of clean water to have a sip from it.

Samrat Sarkar
17-09-2021, 08:05 PM
Originally written in Bengali by Samrat Sarkar
Translation into English by Bishwajit Debnath
Photography - Samrat Sarkar
Equipment used - Canon EOS 7D + Canon 500mm f4 + Monopod and Olympus OMD EM1 + Zuiko PRO 12-40mm

Mrudul Godbole
20-09-2021, 02:07 PM
Wonderful article and photographs detailing the history and behaviour of Rhinos in Manas. The images showing the behaviour of birds (Mynas) and frogs is really interesting.

The construction of so many dams has already caused many environmental issues, but not sure if the government will take any steps to stop that. That is always considered as helping economic development :(.

Manas is still on top of my 'To Go' list, hopefully next year :).

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.