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SOS Rhino : In the News : Beware of poachers, wildlife groups warn Kaziranga

Beware of poachers, wildlife groups warn Kaziranga
Posted on 16 Feb 2006 # IANS

By Syed Zarir Hussain, Kaziranga: Two international wildlife conservation groups have expressed serious concern over inadequate staff to protect the endangered one-horned rhinoceros from poachers at Assam's famed Kaziranga National Park.

"The existing sanctioned strength of staff does not even meet the management requirements of the original 430 sq km. While rhinoceros poaching in the park is under control, the threat of poaching is ever present," said a joint study conducted by UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to latest wildlife census figures, more than 1,600 of the world's estimated 2,400 rhinos roam the thick savannah grasslands of Kaziranga, 220 km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati in northeastern India.

"The park needs good firearms to combat the poachers, who are often armed with sophisticated weapons," said the report titled "Protection Strategies and Suggestions to Enhance their Effectiveness in Kaziranga National Park".

Wildlife authorities have recently made some new additions to the park area considering a rise in animal population in the sanctuary. "The anti-poaching infrastructure in new additions and reserve forests is highly inadequate and practically non-existent in many areas," the report said.

Wildlife officials admit they were handicapped by shortage of anti-poaching squads. "It is true we need more forest guards and better infrastructure for effective patrolling," M.C. Malakar, Assam's chief wildlife warden, told IANS.

He said the park was understaffed with some 120 posts of the total sanctioned 600 forest guards lying vacant and the government unable to recruit due to financial constraints.

"We are using some temporary casual workers for patrolling and same time some recruitment is going on," the warden said.

Poacher gangs killed as many as 600 rhinos at Kaziranga between 1985 and 2000.

Organised poachers kill rhinos for their horns believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and are used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in parts of South Asia to cure fever, stomach ailments and other diseases.

The horn also attracts Middle East buyers who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering - a shooter gets about Rs.100,000 ($2,260) for killing the animal while one kg of the horn fetches up to Rs.1.5 million ($33,960) in the international market. A full-grown rhino could have horns weighing up to two kilograms.

Kaziranga park warden N.K. Vasu said there had been a downslide in rhino poaching in the past five years, while only about 12 of the animals were hunted down in the last two years.

"Despite limitations we are doing our best with a dedicated team of forest guards and rangers carrying out intensive patrolling and hence the decline in poaching incidents in the last couple of years," he said.

The report, however, lauded the anti-poaching efforts by park rangers at Kaziranga, a World Heritage Site.

"It is notable that although there have not been poaching incidents relating to the elephant or tiger, which share the park with the rhino, the park management should not ignore the possibility of poachers also targeting these species," the report said.

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