Rhino population and Poaching patterns in Kaziranga:
Till 20th century:
- Kaziranga lost over 500 rhinos in the last two decades of the twentieth century.
Start of the new Millenium:
- The situation improved in the new millennium when an average annual loss to poaching came down to single digit by 2006.
- The park reported a healthy population of 1,855 rhinos in 2006.
- However, a curious pattern of increased poaching immediately after the results to the State (2006 and 2011) and Central elections (2009 and 2014), points to possible political patronage to poachers in exchange for political work.
- As a result, poaching increased after 2006.
- Poaching made a comeback after 2006, and between 2009 and 2015, at least 170 rhinos were poached.
- However, the conservation efforts also showed results, with Kaziranga reporting the biggest jump in rhino numbers.
- From 1,855 in 2006, the population swelled to 2,401 in 2015.
Grip on poaching since 2016:
- The part reported only 27 cases since 2016, and only nine since 2017.
Reasons for fall in poaching
Insiders attribute the recent drop in poaching to two factors:
- Check on informers who have gone rogue:
- The civil administration uses informers to control poaching.
- However, they apparently turned hostile, and in connivance with their controllers, they were shielding poachers in return for big protection money.
- They have now been reined in by the anti-poaching enforcers.
- Breaking of political patronage to the poachers:
- Earlier, the political leaders offered political patronage to monetise Kaziranga’s rhinos in exchange for various electoral services.
- The present government is said to have broken this patronage, and the efforts are showing results.
Putting a complete stop to poaching is not easy:
Kaziranga and its rhinos still remain very much in the grip of both commercial and political interests. The poaching won’t be easy to end due to following reasons:
- Easy to poach:
- Rhinos are said to be far easier to poach than animals like tigers and elephants, and far more valuable.
- Highly valuable:
- A carton of horns fetches as much as a carload of tiger derivatives or elephant tusks.
- Naturally, poaching syndicates will not give up easily.
- Ever-changing smuggling routes:
- The operators have switched route to ferrying consignments from the Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal to another route through Arunachal Pradesh along the northern boundary of Assam and then down to Nagaland.
- Some are also active on a third route through Silchar.
- A few have recently shifted focus to North Bengal as well.
- Involvement of insurgent groups:
- Local insurgent groups have found it easy to use Rhino horns to strike cashless arms deals with operators in Myanmar.
- The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is said to have wiped out the rhino population in Burachapori forests, while the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) is said to have emptied the Manas National Park.
- More recently, a number of former militants, along with members of the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers and Kuki People’s Army targeted Kaziranga’s rhinos.
- Local Islamist groups such as the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam have also started targeting the Rhinos.
- Involvement of Bangladeshi groups:
- Harkat-Ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh have also jumped in.
- Local population unhappy with killing of poachers:
- Local population around Kaziranga consists of mostly tribals and Muslims, which is also home to many poachers.
- Violent eviction drives against encroachers are also common.
- Since the late 1960s, hundreds of alleged poachers have been gunned down.
- In 2010, Assam extended legal protection against prosecution to staff who kill poachers, after which number of poachers killed increased manifold.
- There are allegations that many killings of poachers are in fact staged murders.
- The killing spree did not have the desired effect as poaching scaled an all-time high by 2013-14.
- Alienation of the minorities:
- The anti-migrant rhetoric against alleged Bangladeshis is alleged to have displeased the minorities.
- There are also allegations that of selective compensation to only the Hindus among the evicted.
- These are said to have alienated the minority population in villages around the park.
- Winning over hostile locals would be helpful:
- While the park management has every reason to guard against the hostile neighbours, their hostility is a huge liability in anti-poaching efforts.
- Winning their support over time can be the best insurance against poaching.