An adult male rhino was poached in Kaziranga National Park’s (KNP) Bagori Range in the early hours of Saturday morning. “This happened between 1.30 to 2.30 am in the Bhalukjan area of the Bagori Range. The carcass was found with its horn removed,” confirmed Rohini Saikia, DFO of KNP.
The DFO says that a group of tourists, who were on an elephant safari, spotted the carcass on Saturday morning. This is the sixth incident of poaching in KNP in 2018.
Earlier in August, the Environment and Forest Department of Assam announced the bifurcation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site into two divisions. Up until then, the entire area under KNP was managed by one administrative division. The move, said the government notification, was made “in the interest of public service” and “for intensive wildlife management.” The authorities believed that it would help to keep in check illegal activities especially rhino poaching.
In the years leading up to 2013, there was rampant rhino poaching in Kaziranga. While 2013 and 2014 saw 27 poaching incidents each year (the highest in the last decade), the figure decreased to 17 in 2015 and 18 in 2016. In 2017 and 2018 (so far) there have been 6 incidents — which includes Saturday’s incident.
“One bullet head was recovered. The investigation is on,” says DFO Saikia, referring to the incident.
Rathin Barman, head of the Centre of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), which takes in injured and orphan wild animals of KNP, says that the incident took place nearer to the range office. “Usually guards patrol in interior areas much further. This incident goes to show that maybe these areas closer to the range office need to be guarded too,” he says, adding that considering the Panchayat elections were underway, there were a lot of firecrackers being burst —and “it is possible that the sound of gunshot firing could have been mistaken for firecrackers.”
While the poaching figures reflect a decreasing trend, wildlife activists are of the opinion that there are larger issues that need to be addressed, especially when it comes to the forest guards. “Frontline staff in KNP is neglected, and I speak from personal experience. On one of my trips there, I had come across a guard who was shivering in one of the trails at Bagori. He had a high fever but no way to contact the main gate but to walk there,” says Jayanta Kumar Das, wildlife activist based in Udalguri.
Barman agrees that the staff needs to be better equipped. “They are a dedicated force but they are still using old guns, while the poachers use AK 47s.“ “And they are on duty for 24 hours, there is no concept of a shift,” he says, “It is a very hard job — they work in the cold, in the middle of tigers, elephants, and rhinos. The same guards have to help tourists too.”
At present, there are 369 staff members, while the sanctioned strength is 528.