After nearly four decades, two rhinos have returned to the Laokhowa and Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuary, following a successful operation to combat encroachment, announced officials on Friday. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma expressed his delight, stating, Happy to share that after 40 years, our iconic Rhinos have returned to Laokhowa and Burachapori. They have returned within one year of our successful anti-encroachment operation in the region. 51.7 sq km of forest cover was retrieved from the evictions in 2023."
Director of Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, Sonali Ghosh, explained that until 1983, the Laokhowa-Burachapori complex in Nagaon district housed a population of 45-50 rhinos. However, they were poached, and the grassland habitat suffered degradation due to anthropogenic pressure. Stray rhinos from the north bank (Orang National Park) and the eastern side (Kaziranga) would occasionally enter through the Brahmaputra chapori areas but did not stay for long.
Since November 2023, rhinos have been observed in the 1st addition of Burachapori and Laokhowa WLS. Ghosh mentioned that these rhinos likely entered the Protected Area (PA) through the second addition of Orang National Park and the recently restored (evicted) areas of Arimari. The eviction drive, conducted on February 13th, 14th, and 15th, 2023, resulted in clearing 1282 hectares of forest land and 817 hectares of unsurveyed government land.
Ghosh highlighted that the government has taken steps to reinforce the PA, with new recruits and filled vacancies. Additionally, 75 frontline positions (Dy Ranger, Forester 1, Forest Guard) have been assigned in the PA. Besides rhinos, the PA boasts a record of 10 tigers, indicating a robust prey base of herbivores. Notably, it is one of the few PAs in the country with an excellent habitat of freshwater mangroves.
Emphasizing the government's commitment, Ghosh stated that efforts are underway to "strengthen the landscape, restore the lost glory of this historic protected area," and ensure "habitat connectivity" between the Rhino range of Orang-Laokhowa-Burachapori-Kaziranga landscapes.