The civil societies and the advocacy groups of the region had rigorously raised voices against the slaughtering of endangered one horn rhinos by poachers since the early part of 2008. But surprisingly enough, the concerned authority and the state government preferred to overlook the public resentment. For more than three months, the wildlife lovers have strongly condemned the authority of Kaziranga National Park (KNP), which had witnessed the loss of 26 rhinos to poachers since January 2007. But neither the authority nor the government had shown the moral courage to admit their incompetence in protecting the inmates of the celebrated park.
The last week of April witnessed the slaughtering of two more rhinos in Kaziranga. The forest guards discovered the bodies of the rhinos, one of them was a calf, inside the park, but the horns were already chopped off. Even the tigers feasted half of the bodies of the rhino calf, when the forest guards witnessed them. It has added the list of rhinos, fallen prey to poachers at KNP, up to six in this year.
Recognized as a safe heaven for the rhinos, Kaziranga gives shelter to almost two-thirds of the total population of one-horned rhinos on Earth. A 1984 census showed that Kaziranga, which was declared a National Park in 1974, had 1,080 rhinos. The toll increased during 1975 to 1990, nearly 25 per year. The statistics showed that rhino population was found 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 in the park at 1,855.
The rhino horn enjoys great demand in international market as it is considered to contain aphrodisiac qualities. The heavy animal enjoys great sexual power, as its mating time is not less than 45 minutes (quite higher than any other animal). Many people believe that one can achieve the sexual power with the help of rhino horns. They consider the rhino horns as another kind of traditional viagra. The horns are also believed to have medicinal values. The traditional Chinese medicine demands rhino horns, which is believed to cure fever and stomach ailments fast.
The park director Suren Buragohain remained clueless at the increasing incidents of poaching of rhinos and only parroted his earlier version, "The poachers are equipped with sophisticated weapons. But our forest guards lack the proper arms to counter them." However, Mr. Buragohain has earned brickbats from wildlife advocates as the recent increase in rhino poaching has occurred during his tenure. Statistics reveal that during his term of around a year, Kazirnaga lost the highest number of rhinos in a decade.
If the director was oblivious to the grave threats to rhino poaching in Kaziranga, the
It started with Nature's Beckon, an active environment NGO of the region, which staged a protest rally on October 1 last year against the authority for its failure to manage the forest and wildlife of
Soon the activists belonged to All Assam Students Union (AASU), an influential students body of Northeast, staged demonstrations throughout
Lately, the AASU activists organized a citizens' meet at Kohora near the Kaziranga park, to hammer on the authority on its failure to protect the rhinos. The daylong meet on February 24, which was attended by various pressure groups, resolved to emphasize on a high level probe to catch the real perpetrators behind rhino poaching.
Various speakers in the crowded meeting, which was inaugurated by an eminent Assamese author Arup Kumar Dutta with the children novel 'The Kaziranga Trail' fame, highlighted the demand for a special task force, equipped with modern weapons for protection of flora and fauna, an annual census of rhinos and a citizen monitoring committee involving the indigenous people to keep an eye on the wildlife. The state forest minister was accused of non-performance by most of the speakers and the chief minister of
Shocking revelation is however made by the director of Nature's Beckon. Talking to this writer, Soumyadeep Datta claimed that the forest department of
In fact, the young activist came out with such an apprehension more than two months back. Addressing the media persons at Guwahati press club on February 4, Mr Datta commented, "We suspect that a large share of the wildlife parts, which are being sold in the international markets, made way from the forest department's stock due to the manipulation and corrupt practices of some dishonest forest officials."
So we want to a probe (preferably by Central Bureau of Investigation) on the stock of animal parts in the custody of Assam forest department, as it is assumed that some precious parts of rhinos, elephants, tigers and leopards had gone for international markets from the official stock of the department, Mr Datta insisted.
As the controversy gained momentum, one rhino was slaughtered at Kaziranga on February 5, which created a huge public uproar throughout the region. Under pressure, the forest minister Mr Hussain rushed to Kaziranga and ordered to deploy additional 100 armed guards in the park. Compelled by the situation, the minister even disclosed that he had no reservation against a CBI enquiry into the entire issue of poaching at the National parks of
The demand for a CBI probe into the killings of rhinos was also highlighted during a Nagorik Sobha (citizens' meet), which was organized by a local journalist group. The Journalists' Forum, Assam, during its meeting on February 13 urged the state chief minister 'to break his silence on the issue and let the people know his government's stand and the steps he has taken, if any, to stop the menace'. In one of its resolutions, the meeting asserted that the incumbent forest minister had miserably failed to protect the rhinos and prevent their poaching and hence no longer he remained 'fit for the job'.
The concern for the rhinos was also expressed by a group of non-resident Assamese (Indian), who joined the chorus to save the rhinos. The Friends of Assam & Seven Sisters (FASS), in a recent statement, supported the demand for a credible and high level enquiry into the ongoing killings of the precious animals.
"We think volumes have been written and spoken about the ineffectiveness of the present measures to protect the rhinos in KNP and other sites. Now it is time to act. We urge for an immediate CBI investigation into the ongoing killings of rhinos, and take disciplinary actions against the officials and individuals responsible for the lack of protective actions," commented Rajen Barua, CMD of FASS stated. Speaking to this writer from
Concerned ordinary citizens, political party members, and media in general have all expressed their deep anguish against the continued slaughtering of rhinos in
But even after the escalating public resentments, the state government remained silent on the issue for all the time. The chief minister, Mr Gogoi, who is otherwise outspoken, avoided the issue while talking to media persons. The state forest minister also continued to cover up his face. But finally the public censure has won the battle, as the