Home of one of the rare and endangered species, one horn Rhino, Assam hosted a staggering 4500,000 domestic tourists and 25,000 foreigners in 2014-15. In order to emancipate this and generate maximum revenue projecting its successful wild-life conservation, Assam tourism department has decided to follow the Gujarat model of marketing. The image of being a “disturbed region” has reduced Assam’s growth in the tourism sector in the last ten years, revealed Ashutosh Agnihotri, IAS , Commissioner and Secretary of Tourism Department, Assam on Thursday after initiating a number of tourism road-shows from Ahmedabad. He also said slowly the scenario is changing in the state.
The number of tourists in the state increased from 10 lakhs in 2000 to 45 lakhs last season. The significant increase of footfalls led the State Government to launch special web-portal providing information to tourists. Besides there will be provisions for booking online tour packages. Following the footsteps of Gujarat tourism’s Khushboo Gujarat ki campaign which featured Amitabh Bachchan as Brand Ambassador, the state is going to employ a professional branding agency and a celebrity Brand Ambassador. Though the name of the brand-ambassador will be finalised in June.
“We have learnt from Gujarat that professional management helps. Most of the insurgency groups have given up arms and have come on board. Assam isn’t all disturbed now. A big percentage of inbound tourists come from Bengal. Now we expect more visitors from Gujarat and other states to double the number” said Agnihotri. Showcasing the prospects for growth in tourism industry Agnihotri also pointed out, “We want to reach-out to the film industry so that they can shoot in Assam. The Government is also planning to develop its own properties for the tourists. Apart from prime attraction wild-life there are tea gardens, golf, rivers and adventure. 17 percent of the work-force is employed in the 800 major and 60,000 small tea-estates across the state. Regarding wild-life we have only focused on the rhino, since it has been the prime attraction till date, but the numbers of tigers have also increased in the state, which is a proof of successful wild-life conservation. The Government has increased its budgetary allocation and 11-15 crores have been set aside for tourism promotion this year. ” The state is also going to kick-off a “New Safari Express” train like the luxury tourist train “Palace on Wheels” of Rajasthan once the MoU with IRCTC (Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation)an state’s tourism department is inked. The train shall run from Guwahati to Tinshukia with halts at Kaziranga-Jorhat-Majhuli and Sukhsagar. The work on the train shall commence within six months, and the train aims at catering both mid and high-end tourists.
Despite the claims of successful story of wild life conservation by Agnihotri, the issue of rampant rhino poaching continues to worry the state. Last month Kaziranga Park recorded an increase in rhino population on the basis of 2013 census two years ago, 2330 to 2401 in 2015. In 2012 census, though an increase of 304 rhinos was recorded and the population touched 25,04. On the other-hand, an application made by RTI activist, has fetched a reply that reveals none of the 243 poachers held has been convicted so far. Indeed, the majestic animals are endangered species! Even a decreasing number of rhinos, which makes poaching harder, had no impact on the ruthless act, as demand kept on rising. The number of Royal Bengal Tigers in the state also increased marginally to 167 according to the latest census.
The exact number of black rhinos that fell to poacher’s bullets last year isn’t clear though. But few hundreds are estimated. But the RTI reply clarifies maximum poaching was executed in Kaziranga and other three wild-life havens of Assam. A total number of 97 cases have been registered, and the security agencies and conservationists opine that the extremist organisations, armed with the smartest AK 47 and AK 56 rifles are running the poaching rackets. 41 poachers had been gunned down by the security personals in encounter. The prime accused are leaders of Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers and Karbi Longri North Cachar Liberation Front(KLCLF). The miscreants were arrested, but few hundreds of cases are pending in court.
Data tabled by Assam Environment and forest Ministry show record 41 rhinos were killed and dehorned in 2013 only, 193 were gunned down over the last 14 years in Assam. Apart from Kaziranga National Park, Orange National Park, Pobitora Wildlife sanctuary and Manas National Park have become a safe hunting zone of the poachers. Despite security measures and campaign, poaching continues unabated.
Why are poachers hyper-active?
What’s the reason behind such poaching rackets and how do they make business? The unique horn of the thick-skinned animal is the reason behind this roaring illegal business. Mythology, not any scientific reason in popular cognizant in South-East Asia is the source of such ruthless poaching and illicit trade globally. A single Kg of Rhino horn fetches $ 1 lac (62.5 lac INR)! It is widely believed that compounds extracted from rhino-horn are of high medicinal value and serve as good aphrodisiacs; it can even cure disease like cancer! Despite several public awareness programmes in China, Vietnam and other countries that offer the black-market, the value is increasing day by day and encouraging poachers throughout the planet. And the poachers are driven by the growing market. The South African Govt reported earlier this year that 12,15 Southern white rhinos were killed by the poachers 2014 only!
Scientific reality is very different. The rhino-horn is form of Keratin, an organic compound that forms human nails and hair. Though it has been used traditionally in Asian Medicine throughout centuries, there was a wide-spread misbelief that almost extinct Asian rhino’s horn can cure fever and cerebrovascular disease. Recent days, the highly mysterious rhino-horn is endowed with more maverick character that it can cure cancer and cure lethargy and hangover to maintain an exponential market.
Another reason behind this growing market is it’s used in manufacturing bangles and other staus-style ornaments of the rich. But how to curb this horny-trade? “ Nothing could stop poaching as long the value received remains so high..” clarified Daniel Stile, an independent wildlife trafficking consultant who works with NGO’s and UN. “This is a commodity that grows more desirable the more expensive it becomes! The only way-out is to kill the demand by convincing the buyers” he confirmed. So, public education is a key tool to combat rhino-poaching. In Africa, private national Parks, rather than public reserves, have been a more effective tool against poaching of rhinos and elephants.
The Majestic Animal
The thick skinned rhino takes majestic stroll unperturbed, browsing on the shrubs of the forests, a treat for the eyes of a nature-lover. There are 3610 black rhinos left in the wild, but the population was 70,000 as estimated in 1960’s. Apart from poaching, habitat loss due to deforestation is another reason behind the decline of rhino population. Assam is blessed with three-fourth of the population of these majestic herbivores, a prime attraction for the tourists. Innovations and proper action should be prompt to ensure the robust existence of these endangered species.