Lakhimpur-Kheri: A lost, scared, lone rhinoceros from Nepal, wandering around near this district town the past eight months, attacked villagers on Saturday night after being cornered and forest officials are now preparing to tranquilise it.
The forest officials, who have tracked the animal since last week and hoped that it finds its way back home to Bardiya National Park in Nepal, have now decided on action, following uproar from local people, since there is the worry that it might kill someone.
There is also the fear that further exposure also risks its poaching.
"We had approved the tranquilisation... We, however, still prefer the safe way that it finds its way back to Nepal," Conservator of Forests of Lucknow Division Eva Sharma told IANS.
Now spooked, the rhino on Saturday attacked a few villagers near the district centre and charged at two forest rangers in Laharpur Forest Range in nearby Sitapur district. Due to its mobility, officials haven't been able to gather much information on the age and sex of the animal. A rhino had killed a man in Lakhimpur-Kheri district in 2006 in an ugly turn to the man-animal conflict. It was finally caught from Meerut district and shifted to Kanpur Zoo.
The forest officials have now kept the tranquillization experts and veterinarian from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) on stand-by.
First spotted in May this year, the rhino has been living in its natural habitat of the Terai region in Lakhimpur Kheri, ranging from the grasslands near Dudhwa National Park to the agriculture fields a few kilometres from the city. A naturally shy animal, the rhino had been living off the people's notice until it was spotted at agricultural fields near here, alarming the farmers.
Some experts, however, believe this is the rhino that was spotted in December 2015 wandering near Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary under Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. The rhinos of Nepal, unlike rhinos in Dudhwa, are free-ranging, which means that they are not confined to any area. They often cross the border through two active green corridors -- Kataraniaghat along the Sharda and Ghaghra rivers in Bahraich and Lakhimpur Kheri districts, and the second from Lagga Bagha in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh.
The rhinos either manage to move back or are caught and sent to the Rhino Rehabilitation Centre in Saklukhhapur in Dudhwa.
"We had been tracking the rhino for the last two weeks. It is changing its location very swiftly and at present is wandering between Kheri and Sitapur. An official from WTI was here for inspection... we will call the experts for tranquilising once the animal is localised," Divisional Forest Officer, South-Kheri, Akhilesh Pandey told IANS.
Once localised to a particular area, the WTI experts would give two to three days' slot to tranquilise the rhino.
Pandey, who had been tracking the animal, said they are trying to route the rhino towards Sharda river so that it can find its way back to Nepal through tha corridor along Dudhwa via grasslands of Ghaghra river. The present location of the animal is about 25 km from the corridor.
"If it doesn't go back, we will have no other option but to make attempts to tranquilise it," he added.
Mayuk Chatterjee, a rhino expert from the Wildlife Trust of India, said that the Forest Department has been advised to keep track of the animal.
"Unlike a tiger or leopard, it's not an easy task to locate and tranquilise a rhino. Its skin is hard, so you only have specific spots where you can tranquilise it. Besides, there are always risks of mortality," Chatterjee told IANS. He added that while rhinos are not a threat to humans, the panicked people is what scares them.
"Animals know their way around... it is the people who might do something that would make the rhino attack them. Department should talk to people and avoid crowd formation," Chatterjee said.