The Hindu explains: Gurmehar Kaur to poaching in Kaziranga

Where conservation policies are under a cloud

Forest officials say conservation of the rhino poses a major challenge, with poachers looking for every opportunity to kill the animal for its horn.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Located about 200 km to the north-east of Guwahati, in the heart of Assam, lies the Kaziranga National Park, a world heritage site that’s spread over 430 sq km and is home to two-thirds of the entire Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) population. The Indian rhinoceros, or greater one-horned rhino, is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its 2008 red list. This is an improvement from its status in 1986, when it was considered ‘endangered.’

Why now?

Often in the news for poaching or annual floods in the Brahmaputra which creates havoc in the park, the reserve has been caught in a controversy over a documentary made by the BBC.

Titled Killing for Conservation, the documentary by its South Asia correspondent Justin Rowlatt talks about the “dark secrets” of conservation at the park and points out that the forest guards have been given powers “to shoot and kill” poachers. The authorities of the park have denied this allegation.

“The park has killed, maimed and it is alleged that it even tortured people. There is no question that rhinos should be protected. But at what cost? This is the inside story of an Indian national park and those killed in the name of conservation,” Mr. Rowlatt says in the introduction of the documentary.

After an interview with the director of the park, Mr. Rowlatt remarks: “What surprises me is that how many people have been killed in the park… Fifty people in the last three years… That seems a lot of people.”

What happened?

Taking strong exception to the documentary and even describing it as “grossly erroneous reporting,” the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change has urged the Ministry of External Affairs to revoke the visas of Mr. Rowlatt and his crew and prevent “their further entry into India for a period not less than five years.” An official memorandum from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), on February 27, advised the wildlife wing of the Ministry to “disallow filming permission to the BBC in any protected areas of the country for a period of five years.” According to the NTCA, the violations by the journalist involve “filming after sunset,” dishonouring the undertaking provided, besides “deviating from the original synopsis submitted to the MEA and its authority.”

Though the BBC claimed that it had not received any notification of ban from the Indian authorities, it stated that “any such reaction to a report on an important global issue like the appropriate way to combat poaching would be extremely disappointing… The programme was a balanced and impartial report which covered both the successes achieved through India’s conservation policies and the challenges, which includes the impact on communities living next to the parks.”

The park has been one of the biggest success stories of conservation in India. From barely 75 in 1905, the population of the Indian rhino now stands at 2,400. Conservation efforts are more than a century old, since the park was declared a ‘reserve forest’ in 1905. Even before the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, was notified with its provisions for setting up national parks, the Kaziranga National Park was conceived by the Assam National Park Act of 1968. It was set up on February 11, 1974, and UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1985. It became a Tiger Reserve in 2007.

Forest officials, however, say conservation of the rhino poses a major challenge, with poachers looking for every opportunity to kill the animal for its horn, which commands a high price in China and West Asia.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 1:32:57 AM |

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