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Rhino abode short of guards, poaching up

The Tribune
New Delhi
21 Nov 2017

Even as a militant-poacher nexus is suspected behind recent incidents of rhino poaching in the famed Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam, home to more than two-thirds of the total population of one-horned rhinos in the world, wildlife policing in the UNESCO World Heritage Site has been hamstrung by shortage of manpower.

Spread over about 900 sq km, the KNP that boasts of over 2,000 one-horned rhinos is being currently protected by only 467 forest security personnel, while actual requirement of the frontline staff was worked out to be 1,587, as per information provided by the authorities concerned in response to an RTI application submitted by conservation activist Rohit Choudhury. The current sanctioned strength of the frontline staff is 561.

The shortage of manpower has been a perennial problem here. Though the area was upgraded to a national park in 1974, the sanctioned strength of wildlife staff was reviewed only in 2011.

With suspected tribal militants/surrendered militants from Assam, Nagaland and Manipur, armed with sophisticated weapons joining hands with rhino poachers, the situation was termed as grave by Assam Forest Minister Promila Rani Brahma.

Poachers used AK-47 assault rifles to kill four rhinos in Kaziranga within three days earlier this month, sending the park authorities into a tizzy.

Meanwhile, the Assam Government has decided to hold monthly park-security review meetings to take stock of the efficacy of the anti-rhino poaching arrangements.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said instructions had been issued to Deputy Commissioners and Superintendent of Police in Sonitpur, Bishwanath Chariali, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts to coordinate with the KNP authorities and the special task force (anti-poaching) for the protection of rhinos.