News from the north east has been bad for some time. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is the home of the one-horned rhino. In fact 70 per cent of the world’s one-horned rhinos live here, which is nearly 2000 of them. But ask a one-horned rhino if that’s the place to be in right now, he’d tell you he’d be any place else.
Their nightmare started this June with the onset of the monsoon. Every year, the park gets flooded in the rainy season as it lies in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra. The only thing you can do is make a run for it. Hundreds of animals — hog deer, swamp deer, elephants, rhinos, wild boar drown and this year the toll is around 700. Of this, over 500 of them are those gentle creatures — the hog deer. Hapless denizens of the park run to the safety of higher ground, cutting through a national highway to the foothills and further up to the hills of Karbi Anglong. Now all this is human territory, of course. Some of them become accident casualities as a speeding truck or a bus knocks them down as they run across the national highway. Drowning or being mowed down, what a choice!
But a much, much more gory fate befalls some of our one-horned friends as they become targets of the gun-toting poacher. More than 17 (and still counting) rhinos have been killed brutally by poachers this year. The poachers roam Kaziranga and also the Karbi Anglong hills where the rhinos run to supposedly safer ground. These guys are heavily armed with fancy guns — .303 rifles and AK 56s. The .303s are popular because the poachers find them easy to dismantle and assemble. Once they shoot an unlucky rhino, it is knocked down and then they hack off its horn with a saw. The rhino is left to bleed to death. Needless to say, death is slow and painful. I don’t wish to get into more gruesome and painful details.
Militants of various hues have been terrorising the state of Assam for years now. It is clear they are the ones with the big guns.
The Manas National Park in the Himalayan foothills is 100 miles away from Kaziranga. It had its entire rhino population wiped out in 1995 during the Bodo ethnic conflict. The money they make through poaching is used to buy arms to fight their wars.
Our forest guards have been provided guns and have shoot-at-sight orders when it comes to poachers. Despite 152 anti-poaching camps inside the park, rhinos are falling victims to greedy poachers every day. It is an entirely different matter the camps get flooded too. Last month, forest guards engaged in a gun-battle with the poachers, but they managed to flee after killing a rhino and sawing off its horn.
There are talks of getting a remote controlled aircraft and a satellite electronic eye to keep watch over the park. But will that deter the poacher? I think not, for he fears no one. Spare a thought for those who live in the battle zones of Kaziranga.
Just like tiger parts, rhino horns are sought after in the South Asian countries especially Vietnam and fetch a good price in the international markets. Horn in powdered form is used to make traditional medicines. It is also used to make cups and bowls as it is believed that it can detect alkaloid poisons.
A Children for Animals and Nature Unlimited (CANU) Initiative