Guwahati, Tuesday, October 16, 2012
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Call for fresh strategy to protect rhinos
 GUWAHATI, Oct 15 – With the number of rhino poaching in and around Kaziranga National Park reaching a scary high, conservation groups and some senior Forest Department officials agree that a serious rethink is required for protecting the Indian one horned rhino and its habitat that also sustains a diverse range of flora and fauna.

 In gruesome instances, removal of rhino horns was attempted on live animals, unprecedented since the time the park came into existence.

“The current plan has not worked on expected lines as seen from the spurt in rhino killings, and a fresh perspective is required accompanied by the right kind of political will,” said a senior Forest Department official, who did not wish to be named.

He pointed out that there are manpower and resource constraints for the department, and acquisition and utilization of funds too need to be made more transparent. “There appears to be a trust deficit about the department particularly with local communities, which must be changed,” the official stated.

From October 27, 2010 to October 14, 2012, more than two dozen horns were severed from rhinos, from different areas in and around the national park. Significantly, in some cases the use of high powered rifles and semi automatic assault weapons has been established, raising the issue of militants being involved in poaching.

Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of conservation group Aaranyak, told The Assam Tribune, The Government of Assam should take timely steps to bring competent officials in the helm of Kaziranga National Park to improve the administration and launch counter-attacks against poachers. The State Government should institute a judicial enquiry into possible nexus between few corrupt officials working for various enforcement agencies and wildlife poachers as reported recently in many news items.’

Addressing specific needs, Dr Talukdar, who is an authority on conservation efforts of the Indian rhino, called for putting “two dedicated ACFs in Kaziranga to take charge of anti-poaching operations with adequate funds and frontline personal at their disposal. Besides, he stressed the need to have better co-ordination among the various enforcement agencies with enhanced information sharing on poachers.

Other conservationists share a common view that underlines the need to garner support from communities and settlements adjoining the national park.

They believe that a well thought out plan cannot work without involving locals, who are usually the first to notice the presence of outsiders close to the park. Their goodwill and intentions, as reported in the media, have in the past helped Forest Department personnel nab poachers from different parts of the national park.

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