As many as 2,479 pieces of rhino horns stockpiled in Assam government treasuries will be destroyed by consigning them to flames in public, a minister said on Thursday after a cabinet meeting.
Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta said that the cabinet in its meeting chaired by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has decided that out of the 2,623 rhino horns, 2,479 pieces preserved in government treasuries across the state will be destroyed at a public function soon.
Mahanta, who is also the spokesperson for the state government, said that 94 rhino horns will be preserved as heritage pieces for academic purposes while 50 rhino horns would be reserved for court cases.
Thursday’s cabinet meeting decided to set up a natural history museum at the Kaziranga National Park where the 94 rhino horns, extracted from the endangered mammals that had died due to natural causes, would be kept and conserved as heritage pieces for academic purposes and public presentation.
Senior forest and wildlife officials said that following a Gauhati High Court order dated December 13, 2010, the Environment and Forest Department has sought permission from the state government to destroy the rhino horns, ivory and body parts of other protected animals stored in various treasuries in different districts.
Assam’s Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Mahendra Kumar Yadav, said the process to verify the rhino horns, ivory and body parts of various protected animals seized from poachers, smugglers or extracted from dead animals over the last four decades and kept in government treasuries in districts, is now in the last phases.
“Recommendations of a state-level committee constituted in July for the purpose and the state government’s advice would be considered before the burning of these remains,” said Yadav, who is also the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW).
The destruction of the rhino horns and other animal parts would be conducted in conformity with the relevant provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and comply with the high court’s order, which was passed following a PIL.
The CWW said that the entire verification processes of rhino horns, ivory and body parts of various protected animals are being done involving various stakeholders, including mediapersons and NGOs, to ensure transparency in the whole exercise.
The Assam government had constituted a panel, ‘Rhino Horn Verification Committee’, in 2016, following allegations that fake horns were being used to replace the real ones in the district treasuries.
In the last such statewide inspection of rhino horns conducted in 2016, a total of 2,020 horns were found in 12 treasuries of the state.
During the verification process, the committee recorded the ‘world’s largest’ horn weighing 3.051 kg and 36 cm in length and it was found in 1982 from a rhino in the Bagori Range of Kaziranga National Park.
The only horn, also collected from Assam in 1909, recorded to be bigger at that time was 60 cm in length and was kept at the British Museum in London. However, there is no mention of the weight of that horn.
The Supreme Court had long ago directed to burn wild animal parts like elephant tusks and rhino horns, Yadav said.
However, the state has a collection of rhino horns seized after 1979. The rhino horns seized before 1979 were disposed of as per the Wildlife Act then.
With an estimated rhinoceros population of 2,640, Assam has the largest number of one-horned rhinos in the world.