Guwahati, Oct 08, 2023, IANS
Guwahati, Oct 8 (IANS): The survival of the one-horned rhinoceros is threatened by the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), even though their poaching has been drastically reduced in Assam, experts said.
In the latest incident of IWT, five persons were arrested by the Special Task Force (STF) of the Assam police after a huge number of rhino horns and other wildlife animal parts were recovered from their possession during a raid in Kaliabor town in Nagaon district on August 23.
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in Assam and a team from the Chirang Forest Department during an operation arrested Nareswar Basumatary along with Biran Narzary and Bahadur Magar, all residents of Jaipur Malibhita region in Chirang district, who were suspected poachers and smugglers.
Basumatary was killed by Assam’s Special Task Force (STF) during an encounter on the same day after he reportedly tried to escape from custody.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said strict action has been taken against the poaching of rhinos in the state resulting in zero cases last year and this year for the first time.
The Chief Minister taking to ‘X' said that rhinos are the prized members of the state's abundant fauna.
“Rhinos, synonymous with the identity of Assam, are cherished members of the state's rich faunal biodiversity.”
He also asserted that the state government has been giving utmost importance to stopping the poaching of the one-horned rhinoceros.
“The protection of this magnificent animal has been a top priority of the Govt of Assam and in the last few years, we have made consistent efforts in this regard which has resulted in zero poaching cases of rhinos in the state for the first time,” the Chief Minister stated.
Ivy Farheen Hussain, Project Officer and Wildlife Crime Analyst of conservation organisation “Aaranyak”, said that the IWT intricately linked to organized crime, transcends borders involving national and international criminal syndicates.
It encompasses arms smuggling, money laundering, cross-border trafficking, and terrorism, all driven by the insatiable demand for rhino horns and body parts in black markets, she pointed out.
Dr Jimmy Borah, Senior Manager, Legal and Advocacy Division of Aaranyak made similar observations.
Hussain and Borah said that the demand for rhino horns, primarily from traditional medicine markets in Asia, has fuelled poaching across rhino range areas in India.
Rhino horns are falsely believed to possess medicinal properties and are often used as status symbols. The poaching of rhinos has transformed into a highly lucrative and illicit industry, leading to the rapid decline of rhino populations.
Behind the rhino poaching, organized crime networks operate with alarming sophistication.
National and international gangs work in close coordination, leveraging their vast resources to orchestrate elaborate smuggling operations. These criminal enterprises are not limited to wildlife alone, they often branch into arms smuggling, money laundering, and even links to terrorism, further destabilizing regions, the experts said.
To effectively deal with this illegal trade and crime, the Assam government has mounted a heroic defence of its rhino population.
Over the years, their tireless efforts and innovative strategies have succeeded in minimizing rhino poaching, culminating in an astounding achievement -- zero poaching in 2022. This remarkable turnaround offers hope for the survival of these majestic creatures, Hussain and Borah stated.
There are some 4018 Indian rhinos in the wilderness of India and Nepal.
A significant portion of this population resides in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR), India's seventh Unesco world heritage site, with 2,613 rhinos, as reported in an estimation conducted in March 2022.
Additionally, more than 250 rhinos thrive in Assam’s other national parks including Orang, Pobitora, and Manas.
In the ongoing battle against rhino poaching, Aaranyak is spearheading an initiative named ‘Disrupt and End Trade of Endangered and Rare Species’.
The initiative serves as an umbrella for needed capacity building, workshops, meetings, collaborations and liaisons with various sectors like the judiciary, enforcement agencies, border security agencies, forest departments and transportation agencies.
“The story of India's rhinos is not just one of survival but a beacon of hope for the preservation of our planet's precious biodiversity. Aaranyak had provided vehicles, motorbikes, and other field equipment for use by forest officials in enhancing their efforts to secure the future of the one horned rhinos in Assam,” Ivy Farheen Hussain said.
Measuring about 1,300 sq. km, KNPTR has one of the highest concentrations of anti-poaching camps compared to similar biodiverse areas in South Asia and Africa.
According to officials of the Assam Forest Department’s wildlife wing, Kaziranga has a total of 223 anti-poaching camps with one surveillance camp for every 5.82 sq. km.
Involving at least three personnel, an anti-poaching camp guards a specific area, with one of them often from a vantage point atop the camp.
Many greater one-horned rhinos wallow in water bodies close to these camps.
Officials claimed the poaching has been more or less under control in Assam that saw poachers killing 190 rhinos between 2000 and 2021, the highest – 27 each – in 2013 and 2014.
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