Our Rhinos In Trouble
Poaching is the unfortunate reality that the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve authorities have to grapple with, and unfortunately, official responses to the poaching crisis have left much to be desired. The conviction rate of rhino poachers is dismal, and between 2009 to 2013, though 214 poachers were arrested in Assam not a single one of them was ever convicted.
Photo: Sudipta Tamuli.
Rhinos seem to be ill-fated. Be it Africa, or India and neighboring Nepal. The population of the Great Indian Rhinoceros, an extremely vulnerable species, has been decimated to a meager 2500-3000 individuals in the wild. They are under threat primarily due to the endless demand for their keratinous horn in China and a few other Asian countries where they are used in traditional medicines. And this demand continues to fuel the brutal rhino horn trade.
India’s once applauded and rigorous conservation efforts to revive the dwindling populations of Indian rhinos seem to have waned. And waned dangerously at that. Just about ten days ago, two rhinos were poached in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve. A park that is considered to be India’s best protected National Park. In 2014 and 2015 alone 43 rhinos were killed in Kaziranga.
Poaching is the unfortunate reality that the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve authorities have to grapple with, and unfortunately, official responses to the poaching crisis have left much to be desired.The conviction rate of rhino poachers is dismal, and between 2009 to 2013,though 214 poachers were arrested in Assam not a single one of them was ever convicted. Even though there were two convictions in 2014 in Kaziranga, and two more in July 2015, in Orang National Park, it doesn’t come close to making up for the abysmal conviction rate.
Recently, environmentalist and RTI activist Rohit Choudhury brought to light shocking non-compliance of Section 50 (8) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 by the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve Authority in a letter he wrote to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam. Section 50(8) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 confers upon the superior authorised officers of the Forest Department, the power to order necessary investigations into wildlife crime cases. But as per the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Report in 2014, the authorities have been merely filing First Information Reports (FIRs) in the police stations, with no constructive outcome. This report points out the lack of an up-to-date register carrying the status of the pending cases in Courts, names and numbers of the accused, dates of arrest, cases filed, police case reference numbers, and the results of the hearings etc.
The report reads – “2. Absence of such a system has denied the wildlife officers the tool to monitor the pending cases effectively. Further, monitoring the activities of known poachers had also hampered due to non-availability of the information on grant of bail to the accused.”
The Kaziranga National Park authorities have themselves, cited in a report made last year that poor and unsystematic investigation and prosecution methods, tardy coordination between the Forest Department and the police, and the unprofessional treatment of crime scenes with the resultant tampering of evidence, has left no room for proper convictions. Moreover, there is no practice of sample collection from the crime scene or, recording of fingerprints and retrieval of the killed animals’ DNA. Worried conservationists stress on making use of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 provisions that grants the Forest Department the power to conduct investigations independent of the police force and make cases in courts. Fast-track courts should be approached for trying of cases involving Schedule I species such as rhinos, tigers, elephants, etc.
The Rhino Task Force Report, 2015 has made the following recommendations to the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve Authority –
“8.1 (c) (3) Kaziranga Park should investigate all the crimes related to rhinos and other wildlife and contest the cases in court of law to the logical end of conviction of criminals. They should not leave the matter to the Police Department.”
"8.1 (c) (4) There are many cases of rhino-related crime pending in different courts. There is urgent need to take stock of such cases and find out the reasons for delay. Simultaneously, critical analysis of the non-conviction or poor conviction needs to be made."
However, the Kaziranga Park authorities have thus far failed to acknowledge and implement these recommendations.
Activist Rohit Choudhury states in his letter, “I strongly believe that the very foundation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 cannot be achieved unless the Forest Department establishes a cogent and an effective system that can be used in the field to ensure timely, effective and scientific investigation of the various wildlife crimes against rhinos in Assam.”
Details of the rhino poaching during 2013 and 2014 as per the Rhino Task Force report: