In view of the spurt in rhino poaching in Kaziranga National Park and other rhino habitats of Assam, Aaranyak, a conservation NGO, has advocated an integrated approach involving sufficient number of well-trained and well-equipped frontline personnel backed by a stringent legal mechanism for convicting poachers.
“The trend in rhino poaching since the past two years has been most disturbing, and it exposes lacunae in the existing protection mechanism. The single-most important thing in the fight against poachers is to address the concerns of the frontline staff. Their number needs to be increased and their morale boosted. This will happen when they are properly equipped and trained,” Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak said at a press conference today.
Assam lost over 20 and 40 rhinos to poachers in 2012 and 2013 respectively. This year eight rhinos have been killed so far in Kaziranga.
Pointing out that frontline staff in all the protected areas of the State suffered from debilitating constraints in matters of number, facilities, training and motivation, Dr Talukdar said that the State Government needed to acknowledge the reality and come up with the required interventions.
“Late release of funds has also been hindering routine patrolling work and other day-to-day protection measures in the rhino habitats. The State Government’s Finance Department is causing uncalled-for delays in releasing the fund in Centrally-sponsored programmes such as Project Tiger. We urge the Chief Minister to take personal interest in this and ensure monthly release of funds approved for forest and wildlife protection,” he said.
Calling for setting up fast-track courts to try wildlife cases, especially concerning rhino poaching, Dr Talukdar said that the authorities should put more emphasis on nabbing the poachers and the trading kingpins, and then ensure that those arrested were put behind the bars through speedy and effective investigation of the cases and their perusal in the courts.
“Our conviction rate is too poor to be an effective deterrent to poachers. Unless poachers are convicted, it may be difficult to check poaching. If the most notorious international gangs of rhino poachers currently operating in South Africa were to spread their operation to Assam, the famed rhino of Assam could well vanish from our forests,” he added.
On the controversial issue of proposed de-horning of rhinos in Assam, Dr Talukdar said that de-horning was unlikely to yield any encouraging results and it was at the most a time-buying strategy adopted by a few African countries having little long-term practical conservational utility.
“We feel that it is through effective protection measures on the ground that the rhino can be saved. A proactive approach should focus on key areas such as improving frontline security and intelligence, and involving the fringe inhabitants as stakeholders in the conservation process to make it participatory,” he said.