Poachers Using Sophisticated Weapons to Kill Assam’s Rhinos

Guwahati, February 5: Use of sophisticated weapons to poach Assam’s rhinos points to a worsening trend as eight one-horned rhinos were killed by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park in this year, apart from the translocated rhino killed in Manas National Park on January 13.

In 2012, the state of Assam lost a total of 21 rhinos to poachers.

In a press statement, WWF-India worried about the rhino killings in Assam and the increasing use of sophisticated weapons by the poachers to kill the rhinos.

“Many of the rhinos killed this year in Assam were gunned down by AK rifles. Use of such lethal weapons enables poachers to kill the rhinos quickly, cut off their horns and flee before the forest guards can get to the scene,” an WWF-India official said.

“The proximity of the state of Assam to India’s porous international borders with her neighbours like Bangladesh and Myanmar not only helps in the availability of such lethal weapons but also enables poaching gangs to gain access to the illegal wildlife trade networks operating across those borders,” the WWF-India said.

“The eventual end users for the horns poached from Assam’s rhinos are thought to be based in China and Vietnam,” the WWF-India official said.

According to a recent TRAFFIC report, most consumers in these countries are willing to pay extremely high prices for traditional medicines made with rhino horn in the mistaken belief that it can cure a number of diseases.

Such rising illicit demand has already taken poaching of African rhinos to crisis levels.

Rhino poaching statistics released recently by the South African government reveal that a record 668 rhinos were killed across the country in 2012, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from the 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011.

After decades of conservation success which resulted in the population of rhinos in Assam rising to around 2,500 currently, the spike in poaching over the last couple of years seems to indicate that poaching networks are strengthening in the state.

“To avoid loss of these hard fought gains it is imperative that urgent steps are taken by the Government of Assam to reduce these threats,” the WWF-India official said.

Since the existing methods of controlling poaching seem to be failing, WWF-India believes that the intelligence networks need to be strengthened and a dedicated wing set up for the same if necessary.

“As wildlife crime increasingly involves organised networks, better co-ordination among the different enforcement agencies is needed to tackle them,” WWF-India said.

The WWF-India urged to the Assam state government and Forest department to take necessary action to protect the big horn animal.

“There needs to be capacity building and preparedness to tackle the situation among the frontline staff, especially of the new recruits who often put their lives on the line in tackling well armed poachers but are hampered by the lack of necessary training and access to the latest equipment,” the WWF-India official said.

The WWF-India has suggested to the Assam state government as, preference should be given to posting only those staff that is experienced in rhino or wildlife issues as rangers in rhino bearing areas.

In addition, use of scientific protocols like SMART patrolling and other modern management techniques need to be implemented in the Protected Areas.

WWF-India remains committed to the conservation of Assam’s rhinos through the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 program, and strongly urged the Assam State government to immediately implement the measures which have been identified to be the most essential to ensure zero poaching in Assam.

WWF is currently running an international campaign against illegal widllife trade to put pressure on governments to stop poaching and increase coordination between them to prevent illegal trade across borders.

The campaign’s other objective is to educate consumers about how they can take steps to stop fuelling the illegal demand for wildlife products worldwide.

Hemanta Kumar Nath is a correspondent in Assam, India, who reports on local news in Assam, the north east Indian state.