The defence of Kaziranga tiol Park (KNP) is leaking with poachers striking at will. In January this year, three rhinos have already been gunned down and their horns taken. The bullets recovered show that poachers have begun adding deadlier weapons like M4 and M16 to go with the AK-47s in their arsel. The suspicion is that militants, particularly from galand, are taking to rhino poaching in a big way. Poaching near this trijunction of Golaghat, gaon and Karbi Anglong districts has been moving up to a higher level, with traffickers, gun runners, drug mafia, car lifters and other crimils also getting in the act. The entire Numaligarh-Golaghat stretch of NH-39 too has been compromised as shown by the death of brave police officer and Barpathar OC Binod Phangso under mysterious circumstances. The discovery of a police bullet in his body has triggered suspicions of a section of rogue policemen operating hand-in-glove with crimil gangs in the entire area. A Rhino Task Force report in May last year had outlined the various components in the rhino poaching racket, including cross-border smuggling, money laundering and the intertiol illegal wildlife trade. The RTF report also raised serious concerns over encroachment of animal corridors and poachers hiding out in villages adjoining KNP; it called for strengthening park security through intelligence-based enforcement and improving field monitoring of rhinos with state-of-the-art technology. But the much vaunted multi-tiered KNP security ring and arming guards with greater firepower and surveillance systems are failing to hold poachers at bay. The government’s track record of investigating such wildlife crimes continues to be poor; it is hardly surprising that the rate of conviction of poachers and traffickers is dismal.
Earlier reports have pointed out how difficult it is to effectively patrol the 858-sq km park, given its porous borders. The Brahmaputra is pressing in on the northern side with fishermen and migrating people setting up on the sand banks. On the southern side, human habitation is denser, with the added complication of resorts, hotels, dhabas and shops mushrooming all over the place. Allowing such commercial establishments to come up in blatant violation of rules while turning a blind eye to encroachments inside the park, the State government now has only itself to blame if it finds safeguarding KNP a near-impossible task. Recently, the tiol Green Tribul (NGT) passed a stern observation that all shops and dhabas within 100 metres from the end of the tiol highway (No. 37) or located in the forest/protected areas, or the bridges constructed within 500 metres of the park ‘would be liable to be demolished’. What has come out clearly in the NGT hearings is the widespread fragmentation of animal corridors through Kaziranga. Since animals instinctively like to move in such corridors, scientific planning centred around KNP should have ensured keeping such corridors free of constructions, fencing the highway or building overpasses and underpasses, maintaining vegetation cover, and taking protective measures including the side on Karbi Anglong hills. But none of these much-needed measures have materialised. The situation has been further complicated by public defiance, spearheaded by some organisations, against the Gauhati High Court order to clear all encroachments within KNP. Tackling poaching is therefore a multi-dimensiol task, requiring action both within and outside the park. The Convention on Intertiol Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fau and Flora (CITES) in its meeting at Geneva recently, highlighted the need for India to remain vigilant against rhino poaching at Kaziranga tiol Park. Three-fourth of about 3,400 one-horned Indian rhinos are found in Assam; the CITES has reported that all rhino horns seized from January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2015 came from Indian rhinos. Dispur therefore needs to be on the same page with New Delhi when it comes to poaching — not to squabble over who is stepping on whose turf as the State government did last year in seeing ‘politics’ behind the Governor’s concern over ubated rhino killings.