Keep rhinos safe

The picture of the dehorned carcass of a rhino, which was recently carried by the media, showed in gruesome light the threat faced by these animals in India. The one-horned rhino was shot by poachers in Assam, which is the rhinos’ main habitat in the country, and left bleeding after hacking off its horn. The poaching of  rhinos, whose horn is wrongly considered to have medicinal properties and commands high prices in the international market, still takes place in the Kaziranga National Park and nearby areas in spite of increased security measures. The survival of the one-horned rhinos, which were once threatened with extinction, has looked up after some sustained conservation measures were taken in the last century. But they are still far from safe, as recent reports suggest.

It is estimated that there are about 2191 rhinos in the country, going by the latest census. It was reported that 11 animals were killed by poachers this year and 20 others washed away in the recent floods. On an average 50 to 100 animals die every year due to natural causes or poachers’ threat. During floods rhinos migrate to safer places and poachers make the most of this opportunity to hunt them. Security is less tight during this period, because the personnel of some anti-poaching camps also have to be shifted to safer places. It is necessary to take more effective security measures during the time of floods. Since poaching is difficult in the core area of the habitat, extending the national park’s boundaries to more areas may be considered.

There is  a new management plan proposed for the park, comprising the park area, buffer zones and animal corridors, to be implemented from next year and this should make it easier to protect the rhinos. It is also necessary to increase the number of forest security personnel and spruce up intelligence. Better co-ordination is needed  between the forest authorities, civil administration in surrounding areas and even the army because insurgents active in the North-East are also suspected  to be involved with the poachers. It is necessary to better police the smuggling routes from the North-East to Myanmar, not just for the sake of rhinos but to prevent other illegal activities also. The few thousand rhinos left should be given a safe and congenial environment to live in.

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