Rhino Poaching Persists in Kaziranga Park Amid Police Protection

Other side of rhino poaching in Kaziranga

When one more full-grown one-horn rhinoceros was shot dead by poachers at the Kaziranga National Park last week and its horn removed fresh public protests were triggered against the unabated poaching in the national park.

This has become a standard module of media for reporting on poaching of one horned Rhino in that particular world renowned area which is a World Heritage Site. Although the actual number of rhino causalities can never be ascertained due to official red-tape, the official figures rose by 42 during 2012-13.

Amid the nonstop rhino slaughter not everyone remained a voiceless onlooker. It was due to the ceaseless anti poaching drive by a selected team of police officers operating from neighbouring Karbi Anglong district, and not by Assam Forest. More than 60 suspected poachers were put behind bars and a huge quantity of arms and improvised assorted weapons were seized from concealed places during 2011-12.

This report was documented by Inspector Naba Bora, Sub Inspector Manirul Islam and Mobilic Bramha; the other officials were Additional Superintendent of Police Bolin Deuri and the then Superintendent of Police BB Cherti. This team not only operated against organized gangs of international smugglers but also fought against departmental officers and staff and also political leaders who collaborate with poachers and dealers linked with China and South-East Asian countries in smuggling rhino horn through various safe routes.

Those detained include members of trigger happy extremist outfits and professional poachers settled in the fringe areas of Kaziranga National Park. The valiant efforts of this police force had to be halted when interest of high level police officers and Assam Cabinet Minister’s interests collide, who went out of their way to voice the initiative.

Suspected Bangladeshi immigrant poachers operating from hideouts in Nagaon district were shielded from the grip of the special police team by an influential incumbent Minister of Assam and the arrested persons slipped through the loopholes of legal net by obtaining easy bail, no matter cases are continuing under Indian judicial system.

Although the Assam government claims that not less than 300 armed poachers are on the prowl around the park and are equipped even with AK-series assault rifles, the police force of the locality has never proactively acted against these elements.

The swamps of Kaziranga are the natural breeding ground of the one horned rhino but the safe sanctuary of this wonderful beast is the highland across the national highway. The highland is an area of about 800 square kilometers controlled by Northern Range Dolamara and North West Range Parkup Pahar, both in the eastern flank of Karbi Anglong district bordering Nagaon and Golaghat district of Assam.

When the whole flood plains of the park are submerged from June to August not only Rhinoceros but large animals such as wild buffaloes, elephant, deer, primates, wild boar, and reptiles scale the high ridges of Haldibari, Dolamara, Kuthori, Parkup Pahar, Bagori, Silim Khowa, Rongagora and Bura Pahar area covered by Northern Range Dolamara and North West Range Parkup Pahar administered by East Division Forest under Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council.

“Both the range protects not only the drifted animals during critical time but the whole area is a safe place where you can see rare Ho-lock-gibbon, deer, tigers, primates, wild goat, reptiles and aquatic animals in rivers like Difulu, Koliani, Deopani, Dihing etc” said retired forest officer Narzari who served a life time in various forest ranges of east and west Karbi Anglong.

Northern Range Dolamara encompasses an area of 421 square kilometers approximately, compared to Kaziranga Park’s 810 square KM(roughly) area conveniently administered by five range officers packed with security personnel armed with SLR and armed home guards. These ranges have all kinds of logistics for surveillance, rescue and repealing attacks of poachers. The whole national park is under the protection of police. Paradoxically Dolamara and Parkup Pahar range of Karbi Anglong which shelters Kagiranga animals during critical times is hardly protected in the truest sense of the term.

For instance, Dolamara is administered by a Range Officer and his Deputy Ranger supported by twelve Foresters and ten Forest guards and about twenty five temporary labourers. Beside this few office staffs assists the Range officer in protection duty. Although the authority desperately needs armed home guard and special forest protection force and other logistics to combat the ever increasing challenges of the poachers specially rhino rustlers; this range does not have any armed force to deal with poachers; but protection of the forest ranges adjacent to Kaziranga is essential for the animals of the sanctuary which turn to this areas for safety during critical spells.

“We have nine .315 rifles and two 12 bore shot guns beside two SUV ( Bolero), wireless set provided by the authority helps us to some extent; we need trained professionals to use arms, we have other duties beside providing protection round the clock. Plantation and management of non timber forest produces, guarding against timber smuggling is another big task we have to look after every day. Ambitious projects like the bamboo mission has no doubt helped the forest department in reaching the people who resides in the fringe areas of reserve forest, in fact they help us in management and protection of forest but we need a total revamp of the system. With a handful of staff not connoisseurs in combat, it is indeed a challenge to protect an area spread over 400 square kilometers in all weather; but until now we have succeeded in minimizing wildlife poaching in contrast to other places; in our endeavor local people and specially media professionals help us a lot. In my area several measures were adopted since 2009 for protection of wildlife in narrow level; for this purpose gaining confidence of local people is the key factor,” P. Kro, a serving Range officer of Dolamara range said.

Although Assam’s government has amended the existing Wildlife protection act, empowering the judiciary to award life in prison to any poacher if proven, this act has now given power the forest officers and staff to go all out against the poachers as a new amendment has made it compulsory for police to seek prior permission of the government before prosecuting any forest official on duty, this has been made clear in section 197 CRPC.

Moreover a maximum offense for violation of wildlife act is now a non-bailable offense according to the new amendment. However the ground level implementation of the act wholly depends on the sincerity of the authority at the top level. When age old bolt action lee enfield rifles of 303 caliber have been replaced by self loading automatic rifles for the officials of Kaziranga, the Karbi Anglong counterpart is waging a grim battle against the same poachers without even a single armed home guard, and no specialized forces. Bizarrely enough with massive protection grounding, poaching of rhino is still rampant inside core areas of Kaziranga National Park where the rhino concentration is highest. In contrast, the record of poaching inside any of the two forest ranges of Karbi Anglong is very negligible.

Sushanta Roy is a journalist in Assam, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora of Assam, and the things that affect them.