Travel Diary: Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros: a future unicorn?


I first so-called studied / researched about the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros back in April 2009, after having one of the many silly ‘conversations / arguments’ with a dear friend. Usually right about just about anything due to his diverse and huge appetite for reading, he made some eronous assumptions about rhino as a whole, which turned out to be rather comical. {blogged HERE}
Having failed to find a good Indian Rhino photograph online, I had used an African Rhino picture in that particular blog entry and it was spotted by a few readers, which I vowed to take my very own Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros photo one day …
Photo © Penelope Gan – All Rights Reserved – Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
Succeeded in securing cheap internal flights from SpiceJet and convincing myself that earplugs will do to overcome the horrendous piped-in music composed and played by SpiceJet’s CEO-musician-wannabe (!!!), I booked my flight from Bagdogra to Guwahati to visit two horn-y friends. {wink}

More research ensued post-booking … and I decided that (1) I was going to go to Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and not Kaziranga National Park, and (2) I was going to maintain bragging rights by passing off photos taken in Pobitora as those in Kaziranga.

Why? you asked.

Simply because I could not bring myself to endure another 7 hours on the road in a TATA or Mahindra jeep with poor suspensions going through throngs of traffic, portholes and narrow dual carriageway type national highways.

Secondly, 7 hours and 217 kilometres is a bit too much of a commitment to ask out of me for some rhinos.

And lastly, with 84 known rhinos in an area of 38.8 square kilometres as oppose to 900 rhinos in an area of 430 square kilometres – thank you! but I rather have rhinos in my face than sit around scouting and spotting! So, Pobitora seems like a no brainer choice given my self-imposed limitations.
Starting at 5am (yes, this was an ungodly-hour exception made only on holidays), braving through the thick fogs without fog headlamps, we made it to Pobitora from Guwahati, Assam in 2 hours. Had I known that elephants could be pre-booked and amongst us we had the park ranger’s mobile number… yes! I would have snoozed. But alas, I guess I was not furnished with such ‘life determining’ information for exactly the same reason to ensure that I was snooze-deprived and the party arrived on time.
We arrived at the park. And waited. And waited. And waited.
First for any park ranger – some were just brushing their teeth! – to open the gates.
Then, we waited for our park ranger.
And finally we waited for another party that was ‘on the way’…
(The problem with ‘on the way’ is it only means: you have to wait for an indefinite period of time as no one for sure is clear on the granular point in which the person is from Starting Pt A to Destination Pt B. I, frankly have used ‘on the way’ on countless of occasions when I was still seated at my desk, or when I was on the way to the toilet prior to leaving the premises … anyways, you get the drift and the only reason why I am stressing this point is because I was sleep deprived waiting for ‘on the way’ idiots whom I am sure snoozed!)
With such a high density of rhinos, we saw our first rhino – a heavily built beast of mammoth proportions with grey brown hide and excessive skin folds which gives an armor-plate image (not flabbiness) – just after 20 minutes of alighting the elephants in an open grassland. Although the rhinos maintained their ascetic nature, rhinos were unfortunately pock-marked all over Pobitora. As such, in the course of half an hour, we had witnessed many male rhinos eating, craping (3-days old food), farting, sleeping, staring, and a female rhino – smaller, void of enormous neck folds and a semi-prehensile upper lip – babysitting.
Photo © Penelope Gan – All Rights Reserved – Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
What would become evidently an eyesore (as well as a smack in the face reality) is: 38.8 square kilometres is extremely small, inadequate as a rhino reserve and possibly counter productive in its aim of conserving and protecting the waning population of rhinos from poaches and other natural problems.
See, Pobitora was a cattle reserve prior to being declared as a reserve forest in 1971, when a few rhinos strayed out of Lawkhowa and Orang wildlife sanctuaries and took resident. Despite its official status as a reserve forest, Pobitora is surrounded by approximately 20 villages with around 2,500 to 3,000 cattle grazing on the grounds daily and the illegal collection of thatch grasses, firewood and fishing, thereby depleting the natural food source for rhinos.
Furthermore, inundated by high-flood during the monsoon season, the swamp areas and ‘beels’ in Pobitora are not only gradually becoming shallow due to silt deposits, but the lack of highlands platforms forces the rhinos to congregate in limited areas, making poaching easier.
Last but not least, development around Pobitora – which is highly visible from the roads and bridges surrounding it (example as seen in picture above) – is creating encroachment problems for the reserve.
With all these stacked up against the rhinos despite concerted efforts by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) and the World wide Fund (WWF) to conserve this species in India and Nepal, one can’t help but wonder if the Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros would be a unicorn for future generations.  

6 thoughts on “Travel Diary: Great Indian One Horned Rhinoceros: a future unicorn?

  1. anonymousYes, it's pretty amazing and yet hard to reconcile; so, yeah, beautiful and ugly at the same time. The armour looking fold of skin is truly something.philWe were on elephants about >50 – 150metres away. If your question is what lens did I used given that I am all wide angle and prime … just ask lah! 85mm f 1.4D

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