On August 14, the Environment and Forest Department of Assam announced the bifurcation of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) into two divisions — a move long-awaited and welcomed by the forest authorities and the public. Up until now, the entire area under Kaziranga was managed by one administrative division: the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division, constituted by its five ranges: Kaziranga (Kohora), Eastern Range Agratoli, Western Range Bagori, Burapahar Range and Northern Range, Biswanath. “KNP is huge — initially it covered an area of 429.93 sq. km. But after various additions, the total area — under the management of the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division alone — measured to 899.70 sq. km,” says D P Bankhwal, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Assam Chief Wildlife Warden, “Management was becoming a problem — especially when the 6th addition to the Park was made under the Northern Range, Biswanath.”
Now, according to the new “map”, KNP will have two divisions: the Eastern Assam Wildlife (southern division) and Biswanath Wildlife Division (northern division). “This also means there will be two Divisional Forest Officers (DFOs) — so the pressure on the current DFO, who sits at Bokakhat will ease off,” says Rohit Choudhury, RTI activist and environmentalist from Kaziranga. Currently, one DFO, headquartered in Bokakhat looks after the entire area of KNP.
“With the Park being split, the Northern range, covering 401.50 square km, will have a separate staff.” The notification from the government came on August 14 and stated that the change was made “in the interest of public service” and “for intensive wildlife management.”
In the years leading up to 2013, there was rampant rhino poaching in Kaziranga. “This created a lot of public reaction and despondency. The area under the Northern Range, Biswanath especially was very vulnerable. We needed good manpower there,” says Bankhwal, who is of the opinion that the Park needs three DFOs at least. From Bokakhat, where both the director and DFO of the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division are stationed, it takes nearly two hours to reach the northern range.
Rohini Saikia, who is the DFO, Eastern Wildlife Division, says: “The move will led to intensive management — and protection levels will increase,” says. “Monitoring illegal activities will be much easier now.” At present, there are 369 staff members, while the sanctioned strength is 528.
Despite the staff crunch, official records show that rhino poaching incidents in Kaziranga have decreased in the last two years. In 2013 and 2014, 27 rhinos were poached. This number has decreased to 6 in 2017, and 5 in 2018 (so far). “The Government constituted a specialised rhino task force and that has helped,” says Bankhwal, adding that “Steps to appoint the additional DFO for the Northern Division are underway. It will happen shortly.”