GUWAHATI, March 19 - The tiny Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, which has been witnessing an increasing presence of rhinos with the just-concluded census yielding a total of 102, continues to grapple with a big problem that has shown no sign of abatement.
Any visitor to the sanctuary can see cattle in large numbers jostling for space with the rhinos. Over the years the cattle population in the villages surrounding Pobitora has increased rapidly, resulting in more and more cattle wandering into the grasslands of the wildlife sanctuary in search of fodder.
�This has been a big headache for us for long, and the worst part is that there is no apparent solution in sight. With the cattle invading more and more space inside Pobitora, the situation is definitely having an adverse impact on the food and space for the rhino. As of now, the cattle population around Pobitora will be several thousand,� Pradipta Baruah, DFO, Guwahati Wildlife Division, told The Assam Tribune.
Conservationists fear that the perennial presence of cattle inside Pobitora could trigger a catastrophe in the event of the rhinos acquiring diseases from domestic animals. Such an eventuality could mean a wipeout of the entire rhino population there.
Pobitora with its 38.83 sq km area is sheltering a very high concentration of the rhino. Given that the actual rhino-bearing area (grassland) inside the sanctuary is barely 16 sq km, the resultant pressure on grassland has been immense.
Pobitora, located at Mayong 30 km off Guwahati, used to be a grazing reserve for cattle before it was declared a reserve forest in 1971. In 1987, it was elevated to a wildlife sanctuary in view of its thriving rhino population. Currently the sanctuary is surrounded by some two dozen villages.
�Preventing the entry of cattle into the sanctuary does not seem a realistic proposition. So we are taking steps to ensure that the cattle population is covered under vaccination. The forest department has been conducting vaccination camps in the nearby villages. Early Birds, an NGO, too, has been doing that for a long time,� Baruah said.