POACHING: Today is World Rhinoceros Day; a day to celebrate a magnificent animal that evolved about 50 million years ago from the first mammals that developed hooves. But the animal bestowed with natural armour has little to feel good about especially in its home continents of Africa and Asia. Even as the day makes the world take note of their plight, another rhino lost its life to poachers in the jungles of Kaziranga National Park on Tuesday, proving how badly the animal needs global attention and protection.
Animal lovers and conservationists are mourning the barbaric killing of a male rhinoceros at Kaziranga National Park in Assam last Tuesday evening. The carcass of the male rhino was discovered on Wednesday morning from the Burhapahar range.
“Forest guards heard gun shots around 8 pm in the Burhapahar range of the park and an operation to counter them was launched immediately. There was heavy exchange of fire but the poachers managed to escape under the cover of darkness.” said Mr.S.K.Seal Sarma, Divisional Forest Officer at the Park
Operations were renewed the next morning when the body was discovered alongside empty cartridges of AK47 and .303 rifles. Just last month a rhino and calf were killed by poachers.
This incident brings the toll up to 21 in Kaziranga this year in the last 9 months. Last year 40 rhinos were killed in the national park.
Rhinos in India
The Great Indian one-horned Rhinoceros is one of the five species of rhinoceros found globally, of which one is already extinct. This species that has survived the throes of time since the age of the dinosaur faces threat from only one predator – human beings. About 90% of the rhinoceros population has been decimated within the last 40 years. This great Indian herbivorous mammal, figures in the vulnerable list just because it is being killed mercilessly for its horns. The horns which are composed of keratin (found in nails and hair) are traded in the black market for astonishingly high rates.
Rhino horns are in most demand in Vietnam and China, where it is perceived by the nouveau riche as a status symbol. The horn is powdered and mixed with alcohol similar to a party drug and also with tincture to cure a hangover. There is an organised crime syndicate which uses a lot of sophisticated technology and even the internet to trade in rhino horns.
Recent consumer research from Vietnam has generated important insights about rhino horn users, identifying them primarily as successful middle-aged businessmen.The research also shows that many young people in the growing middle class intend to buy and use rhino horn once they can afford it.
Over the years the government has been actively involved in the conservation and protection of rhinos in the national parks. Motion sensor cameras have been used to apprehend poachers. In the last year, the Assam government has taken several additional measures such as,
- Creating a special Assam Forest Protection Force and deploying about 200 guards
- Announcing incentives and rewards to any person giving information on poachers.
However, the poachers have been using helicopters, silencers and night-vision goggles to outsmart these measures.
Of about 3,000 Indian one-horned rhinos, more than 2,300 are in Kaziranga—the country’s greatest conservation success. The rest are in other parts of Assam, West Bengal and Nepal. Numbers might indicate that Indian rhinos are not as much in threat as their South African cousins, but if the heightened poaching activities are not controlled, all the efforts of conserving the habitat and the animals are wasted.
Technology has become a big aid for poachers in the recent years and it is through strategic planning, used of technology and targeted counter-poaching activities in specific areas that can reduce if not eradicate the menace.
On world rhino day, let us hope therefore that the rhinoceros is spared from the poacher’s gun and left to peacefully graze in the jungles of the world. May the human fascination for horns not be the brutal end of an animal that has survived since the time when humans did not even exist in this world.
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