Media mission to safeguard a forest minister over rhinos
It may be vital for many to save the endangered rhinos in
Those journalists, representing national and inter-national news agencies, tried their best to project a different picture where the minister has been praised lavishly for his immediate actions against the poachers in Kaziranga. But those stories really missed the public furies, local media's concern and wildlife activities' sustained voices against the ongoing poaching in the park, which had recently celebrated a hundred years of success in preserving the precious inmates.
Mentionable that, Kaziranga lost 20 rhinos during 2007 to poachers and it is an all time high in the last decade. The new year began with more sad news. Within the fifth week of 2008, four rhinos fell prey to the poachers in the same park, which was long identified as a safe heaven for the rhinos. A census in 1984 showed that Kaziranga, which was declared a National Park in 1974, had 1,080 rhinos. The number was found increasing up to 1069 in another census during 1991. The census in 1999 provided more optimistic result as the number of rhinos soared to 1,552. The last census in 2006 revealed the number of rhinos as high as 1,855 in the park. Amazingly Kaziranga gives shelter to almost two third of the total population of one horn rhinos on Earth.
The park normally loses 10 to 15 rhinos annually from natural causes and poaching. Rhinos live an average of 40 years, and in the last 10 years 705 rhinos have died, only 71 of them lost to poachers (the rest died natural deaths). In fact, the poaching of rhinos reduced in the last few years. Statistics reveal that altogether only five rhinos were killed during 2006. The previous year (2005) witnessed the slaughtering of seven rhinos. During 2004, four rhinos become victims of poaching. It was again less in 2003, where poachers killed only three rhinos, four in 2002, eight in 2001, four in 2000, four in 1999 and so on.
Called black ivory, the rhino horn is prized as an aphrodisiac and a cure for many ills in traditional Oriental medicine, selling for thousands of dollars per kilogram. A single horn can fetch as much as $40,000. Rising incomes across
But veterinarians, say that's nonsense. It is nothing but superstition. The horns are nothing but compact masses of agglutinated hair and rhinos use them for defense against other animals. There is no scientific analysis that the rhino horn powder could stimulate human sex, said a Guwahati based animal physician.
Even so, the rhinos are still being slaughtered for their horns. The poachers use various methods to kill the giant animal. The easiest way remains shooting it with guns (many times fitted with a silencer). There are reports that the poachers often use telescopic rifles that can fire bullets from a long distance. Sometimes, the poachers come inside the park during the night (Kaziranga has no fencing or walls on the boundary) and dig a hole on the path, which rhinos often use. One very interesting aspect of the rhinos' habit is that the animal defecates at a particular place continuously for many days. The poachers first identify the path littered with the heap of dung and plan accordingly. In fewer occasions, high-tension electric lines are also used to kill the pachyderm.
The park director Suren Buragohain argues all the time, "The poachers are equipped with sophisticated weapons. But our forest guards lack the proper arms to counter them. The park, he says, badly needs more guards with advanced arms and ammunition. Incidentally, Buragohain earns brickbats from the wildlife lovers as his tenure witnessed the rapid increase in rhino poaching at Kaziranga. Statistics reveal that during his term (still to cross 12 months) as the director, Kazirnaga lost the highest number of rhinos in a decade.
As the director was clueless to the grave threats to rhino poaching in Kaziranga, the State forest minister showed an equally insensitive and callous approach to the issue. All the time, the young minister in Tarun Gogoi's cabinet, preferred to ignore the matter. It finally compelled the All Assam Students'
Earlier, the conscious citizens, political party members and media editorials expressed their deep anguish against the continued slaughtering of rhinos in
Meanwhile, an active NGO of the region came out with a strong allegation that the authority itself was some how involved with the illegal trade of rhino horns. Addressing the scribes at Guwahati Press Club on February 4, Soumyadeep Datta, the director of Nature's Beckon argued that the forest department of
As the CCF (Wildlife) MC Malakar informed that only 1498 horns are being preserved in the custody of the forest department till date, Soumyadeep Datta claims that it was too less. He revealed, "We have authentic information that till 1972
Poaching is a punishable offence in
But all the hue and cries of the concerned people of the region were not taken into consideration by a section of news agency reporters in Guwahati, who continued reporting the version of the authority and the forest minister. Taking his cue from the last incidence of rhino killing at Kaziranga on February 5, one senior reporter had gone to such extent of reporting, where he described the forest minister as seeking a CBI enquiry into the matter. The
The question arises whether a journalist (or an agency) should ignore other developments in a particular situation? And whether a minister seeking an enquiry into the ministry under his charge, does not point to his own incompetence? Surprisingly, the reporter missed these vital points and parroted the version of the forest minister, maybe because of his ignorance. But in reality, the minister expressed his version as 'we have no reservation against a CBI enquiry into the matter of increasing cases of rhino poaching' in Kaziranga. Facing the heat, the forest minister also rushed to Kaziranga on February 6 to take stock of the situation.
A second story was differently headlined but said the same thing. Neither reported what PTI did, "The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) on Saturday (February 2) staged a state-wide dharna to protest against the state government's alleged failure in checking rhino killing by poachers in the
Similarly, the Guwahati based reporter of AP, tried to paint a rosy picture of Rockybul Hussain, while narrating that the authorities at Kaziranga deployed 100 armed guards to check the poachers. It quoted the minister as saying, "We are alarmed at the seemingly organized poaching by gangs at the
Amazingly the news agency, based in
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It may be vital for many to save the endangered rhinos in India's celebrated parks, but for a section of media persons in Northeast, it seemingly becomes more important to safeguard the forest minister. While wildlife lovers around the globe rail against the authority of Kaziranga National Park for its failure to protect one horn rhinos, a section of journalists in Guwahati continue manufacturing stories glorifying the initiative of the State forest minister.
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