In Assam, 12 of the 16 rhinos poached before the year crossed the halfway mark were in Kaziranga National Park. With rhinos continuing to be killed in the UNESCO World Heritage site for horns, forest authorities have sought suggestions from experts and NGOs to tackle poaching effectively.
This follows a Gauhati High Court order in March asking the authorities to come up with concrete steps to protect the Great One-horned Rhinoceros, a highly endangered species.
An organisation working for protection of rhinos is in favour of plugging transit routes. Another advocated use of more gadgets in tune with times, and expressed surprise at opposition from the army to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for overhead surveillance on poachers.
“Increased global demand for rhino horns is leading to more poaching and we need global intervention,” said Richard Emslie, scientific officer with IUCN’s African Rhino Protection Group, who joined, online, an international conclave on Kaziranga and Rhino Protection on Monday.
Christy Williams of WWF’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Programme said, “One has to plug transit routes through which rhino horns are smuggled to the international market,” he said, pointing at Dimapur-Imphal-Moreh route gangs use to smuggle rhino horns from Kaziranga.
Williams asked why the army had objected to use of UAVs in Kaziranga after a test-flight was successfully conducted in April last year.
“It is time Kaziranga made the best use of technology-driven gadgets including UAVs,” Williams said.
“Moreover, the difficult task of rhino protection should not be left to the forest department alone. The police and judiciary should be involved so that every arrested poacher is convicted,” he added.
Bibhab Kumar Talukdar of Asia Coordinator of International Rhino Foundation said gathering intelligence on poachers was lacking in Kaziranga. “While effective intelligence gathering is the first part of the strategy, ensuring conviction of poachers by a dedicated team of forest officials to pursue cases in courts of law is a must. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create more poachers,” he said.