Days before Assam goes to polls, Kaziranga’s one-horned rhinos have emerged as a crucial political issue, with the opposition blaming the Congress for the increase in poaching in the national park.
“The Congress has not only failed to protect Assam’s indigenous communities from the invasion of Bangladeshi infiltrators, but has also failed to protect Kaziranga’s horned rhinos,” said Arun Kumar Sarma, Asom Gana Parishad’s (AGP) candidate for the constituency.
The 882-sq km national park falls mostly within Kaliabor in central Assam.
His rivals, Congress candidate and CM Tarun Gogoi’s son Gourav Gogoi and BJP’s Mrinal Kumar Saikia, have also raised the issue during election meetings. “It is not just that rhinos have been killed. A portion of Kaziranga is under encroachment of suspected Bangladeshi migrants,” said Saikia.
The Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency has been with the CM’s family since 1991, except for a brief spell between 1996 and 1998. Rhinos also feature in the manifestos released by political parties in the state. While the AGP has sought the creation of a larger habitat for rhinos and other wildlife, besides harsh punishment for poachers and government servants responsible for lapses, the BJP and CPM have also sought stringent measures to protect the animal.
According to the latest count, Kaziranga has over 2,200 rhinos. But poachers have also increased their tally, which went up from 21 in 2012 to 41 in 2013. This year, poachers have killed 11 rhinos in the first three months. Other parks and sanctuaries, such as Manas NP and Pobitora WLS, are also on their radar.
“It is good that rhino-poaching has found a place in election manifestos. But do political parties have any scientific action plan? Protesting against poaching or blaming the party in power is political gimmickry,” said Arup Ballabh Goswami, honorary wildlife warden of Golaghat.
“No party has any concrete idea or plan to safeguard the rhinos. What do you do when the CM says that rhinos are killed in Africa too?” said Moni Madhab Mahanta of the Kaliabor unit of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).