By Denis D. Gray
An endangered one-horned Indian rhinoceros is under constant threat from poachers as Chinese demand for exotic ‘medicines’ made from its husk continues to grow.
Out of the early morning mist and tall grass of northeast India emerges a massive creature with a dinosaur-like face, having survived millions of years despite a curse literally on its head. As elephant-borne riders approach, the formidable hulk sniffs the air for danger, then resumes its breakfast.
This is life in Kaziranga, refuge to more than 2,200 endangered Indian rhinoceros and one of the world's best-protected wildlife reserves. But even here, where rangers follow shoot-to-kill orders, poachers are laying siege, attempting to sheer off the animals' horns to supply a surge in demand for purported medicine in China that's pricier than gold. At least 18 rhino fell to poachers in and around the park in 2012, compared to 10 in all of India in 2011.
Insurgents eager to bolster their war chests here in India's Assam state are also involved, according to police. Authorities are investigating a recent news report that a Chinese company offered two rebel groups a deal: weapons in exchange for horns and body parts of the one-horned species whose scientific name is rhinoceros unicornis.
Pitted against the poachers, some armed with battlefield rifles, are 152 anti-poaching camps staffed by more than 900 rangers, guards and other personnel, almost one for every square kilometer of the reserve. These include a well-armed task force rushed in when the poaching erupted again early last year. Kaziranga also is ready to deploy drones and satellite surveillance to track the intruders. More....