It was a crowded citizens' gathering organized at Guwahati Press Club on March 14 that elaborately discussed the wildlife conservation effort in northeast India, where the speakers unanimously urged the province government of Assam to immediately hand over the case of rampant wildlife poaching in various forest reserves of the State to the Central Bureau of Investigation (of India).

Organized by Nature's Beckon and Journalists' Forum Assam (JFA), the meeting expressed utter dissatisfaction on Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and State forest minister Rockybul Hussain for their repeated failures to engage the CBI for the wildlife probe, particularly the rampant rhino poaching in various forest reserves including the world famous Kaziranga National Park.

"The chief minister has made statements in various occasions that his government is asking for a CBI probe into the matter, but nobody in Assam is convinced about the seriousness of the State government (in handing over the cases to CBI)," said Soumyadeep Dutta, director of Nature's Beckon, an Assam based environment NGO. He also raised voices for a comprehensive probe to check how many origin rhino hors are in the custody of the State forest department.

"We suspect that most of the preserved rhino horns have been sold in the illegal market by some corrupt forest officials and those are being replaced with fake horns," asserted Dutta.

Assam has lost 13 precious one-horned rhinoceros to poachers in the last three months and in every attempt the rustlers succeeded in robbing the horns after chopping it from the animals. Contrary to the grave situation the State forest department and the concerned minister have made it a habit to send occasional press statements and few half-hearted initiatives to save his skin.

Presided over by JFA president Rupam Barua, the meeting asserted that Assam needs a forest accountability committee in the line of police accountability committee. The committee is expected to monitor the wildlife conservation activities and continues interacting with the habitants of fringe villages of reserve forests.

In a unanimous resolution, the meeting urged the forest department to start a helpline to engage the common people in rescuing the wildlife across Assam. It pointed out that the proposed forest helpline, once started in Assam, would help accelerating the instant response and reducing the wildlife crimes in the State.

Various speakers in the meeting also demanded a judicial enquiry into the activities of Wildlife Trust of India, which once trained few individuals to operate tranquilizer guns in Assam. They argued that the incidents of chopping of one-horned rhino horns, when the animal was alive that took place in Kaziranga last year, throw light on a different aspect of poaching.

"It is simply impossible for anybody to chop off a full-grown rhino for its precious horn without first tranquilizing the creature. We suspect that many individuals, who got the training from WTI, later joined hands with the poachers," said Khanjan Nath, a wildlife activist.

He also pointed out that WTI has played hide and seek game in its conservation effort in Assam and keeps on trying to safeguard the senior forest officials of Assam whenever public outcries arise against the department. The people of Assam have every right to know how much funds, the WTI has generated from the Union government and spent for conservation efforts in Assam, added Nath.

Dr Kulendu Pathak, former vice-chancellor of Dibrugarh University, Parbati Barua, a legendary elephant expert and Ritesh Bhattacharya, former wildlife warden of Assam in their speeches had advocated for a convention on the issue in the coming days. They also insisted on more public awareness on the conservation effort.

Assam has reported in the killings of nearly 130 leopards in different parts of the State during a decade and in most cases the big cats were attacked by general populace. It has been observed that the leopards, during its breeding period, come out of their hide outs to the residential areas for many reasons including in search of foods. Sometimes, they kill domestic animals inviting wraths from the villagers.

"As there is no such compensation package in case of cattle killed by the wild animals in non-reserved areas, the people try to take revenges. Moreover, very few people have been made accountable in Assam for the killings of wildlife in full public view. So there seems to be little deterrents among the common people in the crimes against wildlife," said Pranjal Saikia, an eminent film personality of Assam.

Other speakers including Biraj Choudhury, George Bordoloi, Haricharan Das, Bhaskar J Barua, Hiten Mahanta, JP Das, Abhijit Bhagawati, Rubul Das, Bikramjit Kakoti and Manomati Barman were unanimous in their opinions that the environment & wildlife activists of northeast India should have a strong and effective platform to sustain their fights for the conservation of forest and wildlife in the trouble torn region.