By Roopak Goswami
Kaziranga National Park is thinking the “smart” way to take on poachers. The proposal of having “smart guards and smart communication” has been developed by director of Kaziranga National Park in view of Gauhati High Court’s order to improve protection of rhinos in the World Heritage Site.
The proposal is now under discussion.
“Since Kaziranga National Park is home to the largest number of greater Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the species is constantly under threat from poachers. Owing to vigorous patrolling by the field staff as well as proactive role by the park authorities, poaching is contained to certain extent. However, it is high time that modernisation of the strike force, forest guards and other frontline staff is carried out by upscaling the anti-poaching infrastructure. The home of the rhinoceros can be protected from poachers and the species, along with other endangered wildlife, will continue to thrive and multiply,” the park director, M.K. Yadava, said in an approach paper on Issues and Possible Solutions to protection of one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park, which has now been thrown up for discussion.
He said the pressure on Kaziranga National Park is tremendous as the rhinoceros population is very high and the entire boundary porous. The northern side is surrounded by the Brahmaputra and its numerous islands. There is a very large population of traditional fishing communities all along the river, some of whom may be potential field men for the gangs of poachers. The southern side of the park is also full of human habitation, making patrolling very difficult, he said.
Yadava said under the smart guard system in the context of prevailing situation in Kaziranga National Park “S” stands for sustained stamina 24x7x365. “M” means motivated, “A” action-oriented, “R” ready to act. “T” stands for trained and tactically superior, “G” means ‘get down’ to the poachers, “U” undeterred by adverse conditions, “A” always armed (weapon, equipment and kits) “R” right thinking at the right time and “D” implies develop yourself. The smart guard will be well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated.
“The pilot proposal here would create an elite force of about 50-75 smart guards to begin with. Though there is a large number of equipment (in the thought process), initially it is proposed to start with day-vision binoculars, hand-held GPS sets, range finders, night-vision goggles, hand-held thermal scanners, powerful searchlights including illumination systems, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. To this is added portable battery packs (as the equipment would need power supplies during long hours of ambush and patrolling)” Yadava says.
The director says the introduction of smart guard system would change patrol, ambush and surveillance strategies which would require training and motivation of front line staff. “Six months’ intensive training has been proposed to make the field staff adapt to the new technologies and systems for better performance.”
On the other hand, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) today moved the state forest department demanding that the state government lobby with international agencies to create pressure on those procuring rhino horns supplied by poaching rackets in order to prevent poaching.
The peasants’ body, which has been spearheading a movement against the government on different issues of public interests, today launched a protest against poaching of one-horned rhinos in the state’s forests including Kaziranga National Park.
Nearly 500 members of the KMSS, led by its president and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, staged a demonstration here alleging that the state government had failed to prevent poaching as 168 rhinos have been killed during the past 12 years of Congress government in the state.
According to the latest census (March 2013), there are 2,329 rhinos in Assam, up from 2,290 the previous year.
The KMSS supporters shouted slogans against forest minister Rakibul Hussain, alleging that the department had failed to identify rackets involved in continuous poaching of rhinos.
They alleged that steps taken to improve security arrangements in the forests were not enough.