On July 1, 82 constables of the first-ever batch of a “Special Rhino Protection Force” (SRPF) were deployed in various parts of UNESCO World Heritage Site Kaziranga National Park in Assam. This special force has one sole objective: to protect the one-horned rhino. The force, which consists of 74 men and eight women, underwent 43 weeks of training and on June 28 participated in a passing-out parade at the 9th Assam Police Batallion (APBN), Berhampur, Nagaon. On July 1, the constables assumed their duties across the national park.
What is the main duty of the SRPF?
“Their main responsibility is to protect the rhino,” says P Sivakumar, director, Kaziranga National Park, “They cannot be engaged in any other duty unless it involves protecting the rhino.” Designed on the lines of the Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) (formed in 1986 for the “better protection and security of the forests, forest produce and wildlife of Assam”), the squad, raised in collaboration between the central and state governments, is an initiative of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
“Once the constables reach the age of 40, they can join the AFPF and will be relieved from the rhino protection duty,” says Sivakumar. While the squad’s foremost responsibility is the rhino, if required, the NTCA can ask for their services to be used in tiger conservation in any other part of the state.
Why is the initiative so special?
This is the first time a dedicated force has been raised to keep a check on rhino poaching and related activities in the Kaziranga National Park. 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. The last two years have seen a total of 6 cases each year. “In 2019, there have been three cases so far,” says Rohini Saikia, DFO, Kaziranga, “The SRPF is like an additional force (apart from the AFPF) trained specifically for operations related to the rhino, with modern arms and ammunition — a big boost to the fight against poachers.”
Where was force trained?
The force underwent a rigorous 43 weeks of training in the Assam Forest School, Guwahati, the Assam Forest Guard School, Makum and APBN, Berhampur. “They have been trained in handling different types of arms and specific input-based raid operations,” says Sivakumar.
Does the force include women too?
Out of the 82 members, eight are women constables. “The duties of the men and women will be the same,” says Sivakumar. The constables will be divided into eight teams and deployed in the following areas of the Park: Agratoli, Burapahar, Bokakhat, Kohora, Bagori, Panpur, Biswanath and Gomeri.
How many rhinos are there in Kaziranga?
A 2018 state forest department census done across the 430-square-kilometer park counted 2,413 rhinos — which reflected an increase of 12 individuals since 2015 census. According to figures, there are 2,547 rhinos in Assam: 34 in Manas National Park and 100 in Orang National Park.