By Jay Mazoomdaar
Barring June, Kaziranga has lost a rhino almost every week to poaching this year. These are the worst figures since the bloodbath witnessed during the height of militancy in the 1980s and 1990s when the park lost an estimated 550 rhinos in less than two decades.
In the presence of too many guns and splinter militant groups, it is very difficult to physically defend this crowded mosaic of wetland and grassland without having eyes and ears on the ground to preempt poachers.
The Environment ministry has been doubly worried because Kaziranga is also a tiger reserve since 2006. So, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) sanctioned a generous Rs 9.33 crore annual central assistance for Kaziranga on 26 August. While Rs 3.60 crore was meant for building anti-poaching infrastructure, Rs 1 lakh was earmarked for intelligence gathering.
Only this Monday, Kaziranga authorities arrested two men for poisoning a tiger. Another three involved in the poaching are still absconding. While this was the first case of tiger poaching in Kaziranga this year, as many as 18 rhinos have already been killed right inside the national park while another six fell to poachers in the peripheral forests of Karbi Anglong and the north bank of the Brahmaputra.
Following a poaching spree that wiped out much of the insurgency-ridden state’s prized wildlife during the 1980s and 1990s, a semblance of political stability and shoot at sight orders against poachers in Kaziranga slowly helped the rhino bounce back. From 1999 to 2006, the park lost 41 rhinos to poaching at an annual average of just 5 animals. Then, the 2006 Assembly elections unleashed what many called “reward killing”. The toll jumped to 20 in 2007. More....