By Nava Thakuria
Sustainable increase of precious one-horned rhinoceros, recent royal visit by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, concerns expressed by an international rights body over shooting of a number of unconfirmed poachers and many more news put Kaziranga National Park in the international media headlines.The famous forest reserve of Assam usually draws the media attention for poaching related news, as both the governments of Dispur and New Delhi start blaming each other to hide their faces. The Union government in New Delhi routinely expects stringent actions against poachers, where the State government at Dispur cites the insufficiency of funds to materialize the anti-poaching strategies. Lately, the Union forest & environment minister Prakash Javadekar commented that the Centre was very serious about the poaching of wildlife. He also added that continuous tough actions against the poachers would be initiated with inclusion of more local youths in the rhino protection force. Javadekar expressed hope that the recent initiative by the Union government would yield visible results in sharing vital wildlife information among south Asian nations. The one-horned rhinos have a world population of over 3,300 individuals in wild today and the species is surviving only in India (mostly Assam), Nepal and Bhutan. According to the rhino counts held in 2013, Assam had around 2550 rhinos in wild spreading in various protected forest reserves including Kaziranga National Park (2329), Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (100), Rajib Gandhi Orang National Park (95) and Manas National Park (21).Situated on the south bank of mighty Brahmaputra river Kaziranga National Park has over 150 anti-poaching camps managed by 1,200 government forest officials. The Kaziranga authority has also engaged 300 elite protection force personnel to safeguard the wildlife inclusive of around 100 Bengal tigers, 1150 Asian elephants, 1900 buffaloes etc besides one-horned rhinos.It may be mentioned that the recent visit by England’s Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton to Kaziranga helped it to grab the international media attention. The royal couple stayed for two nights in Kaziranga locality and enjoyed the ambience.But shockingly their visit was welcome by the news of poaching of a matured rhino in the forest reserve and it was followed by another incident of poaching as the Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge left Assam with their next schedule over India-Bhutan visit. The horns of both the wild animals were taken away by the poachers.Then came out an astonishing statement from the Survival International claiming that the Indian forest authority’s policy of shooting suspected poachers on sight is dangerous for preservation of human rights. The global forum for protecting tribal peoples’ rights claimed that 62 people were shot dead by the wildlife guards in Kaziranga within a decade.â€œKaziranga National Park in Assam state has become infamous across India for its extrajudicial executions. Armed guards summarily execute anyone they suspect of poaching, and local people are reportedly offered cash rewards for informing on people they suspect of involvement. The guards are given immunity from prosecution,â€ said a recent statement issued by Survival International.Extrajudicial killings should have no place in conservation today. Why aren’t the big conservation organisations loudly condemning this kind of knee-jerk brutality?
Instead, they’re supporting anti-tribal conservation policies, which play right into the hands of the gangsters who are running international poaching rings. Targeting tribes diverts action away from tackling the true poachers. It harms conservation, commented Stephen Corry, director of the global forum.The forum asserted that the tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the
natural world. Targeting tribes diverts action away from tackling the true poachers’ criminal gangs selling to international markets. As the eyes and ears of the forest, tribal people are best placed to prevent, catch and report poachers, added the statement.Amidst all controversies, Assam government has adopted an ambitious program called Indian Rhino Vision 2020 aiming to increase the rhinos’
population in the State up to 3000 in the next few years. Under the project, the State forest department has also shifted (translocated) many rhinos to different forest reserves of Assam to
increase their area of habitats.
(Nava Thakuria is a senior journalist based in Guwahati, Assam, India)