Kaziranga National Park has been in the headlines several times this month. Here’s an overview of the latest news.
Over the past 12 years, poachers killed 143 rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park. Of these, about two-thirds were killed in the past five years.
But during the same five-year period, Kaziranga’s armed park rangers have killed more than 50 people.
Earlier this year there was a lively debate about Kaziranga’s controversial “shoot to kill” policy. The BBC’s South Asia correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, reported about shootings of villagers living near Kaziranga, at the hands of park rangers. The National Tiger Conservation Authority’s responded by banning the BBC from all of India’s tiger reserves for the next five years.
Poachers’ guns silenced?
At the beginning of November 2017, the Hindustan Times reported that, “Poachers’ guns were silent in Assam’s Kaziranga this year. Well, almost.”
Until the beginning of November this year, only two rhinoceros had been killed in Kaziranga. In 2016, poachers killed 18 rhinos.
According to the Hindustan Times,
Park rangers turned to sustained surveillance, stakeouts and stealth to track down poachers, especially nightly intruders. They use night-vision cameras, drones and eight 90-foot towers kitted out with cameras that stream live video feeds to a control room.
Park rangers also warned villagers of the consequences of helping poachers, and confiscated weapons from villagers near the park. Park authorities set up 38 eco-development committees, and trained villagers to weave clothes and make handicrafts.
Satyendra Singh, the director of Kaziranga National Park, told the Hindustan Times that,
“These confidence-building measures coupled with frequent interaction with villagers led to better intelligence gathering and more arrests of poachers.”
Four rhinos killed
On 2 November 2017, a day after the report in the Hindustan Times, poachers killed an adult female rhinoceros. Two days later, a female and her calf were killed. The poachers removed the animals’ horns and left them for dead.
Park rangers found empty cartridges of an AK-series rifle near the dead rhinos.
Pramila Rani Brahma, India’s Forest Minister, responded to the rhino killings by promising more sophisticated weapons for park rangers. He told TIME8 that,
“By mid-November, we are going to provide all kind of arms to the forest officials. We have ordered for Insas, SLR rifles, Short assault rifles. Every necessary step will be implemented and the process is on.”
Within days, poachers killed a fourth rhino.
Kaziranga massively understaffed
The Times of India reported that a reply to a Right to Information application filed by environmentalist Rohit Choudhury revealed that Kaziranga needed 1,587 security personnel to patrol the 883 square kilometre area of the national park. Currently, the park has 467 security personnel.
A park official told the Times of India that a proposal for additional staff had been submitted to the state government, but that there had been “no progress” on the request.
IUCN upgrades Kaziranga
During the UN climate conference, COP23, in Bonn, IUCN released its IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2. According to the IUCN’s analysis, Kaziranga has improved from a World Heritage Site with “significant concerns” to one that is “good with some concerns”.
But IUCN’s report provides little information about the management of specific World Heritage Sites, and does not explain exactly how it arrived at the decision to improve Kaziranga’s rating.
Government employee arrested for rhino poaching
Last week, the Shillong Times reported that a government employee was one of two people arrested in connection with rhino poaching in Kaziranga. Nitual Hazarika works at Kaliabor Sub-Division court in Nagaon district.
Hazarika and the other person arrested, Sahid Ali, are accused of helping poachers from the State of Manipur to kill the rhinos in early November. Hazarika passed on information about police patrols and the location of forest guards’ camps. The poachers have also been arrested.
Planned bioethanol refinery near Kaziranga
Local activists are opposing a bioethanol refinery planned to be built about 20 kilometres to the east of Kaziranga. The project is a joint venture between India’s state-owned Numaligarh Refinery Limited and Finland’s Chempolis Oy.
Assam-based organisation Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha opposes the proposed bioethanol refinery on the grounds that it will impact the nearby Deopahar Proposed Reserve Forest and the greater Kaziranga ecosystem. It will also create pollution in nearby residential areas, and block a critical elephant corridor.
Soneswar Narah, an activist with Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha was arrested after speaking out against the bioethanol refinery at a public hearing in July.
Narah was also arrested in April 2017 along with his colleague Pranab Doley. Narah and Doley argue that they are being subjected to police harassment because of their involvement in the BBC’s reporting about Kaziranga earlier this year. In May 2017, Doley told the website thewire.in that,
“We have been raising scientific questions about the killings in Kaziranga for a while now and don’t have a lot of answers yet. We were arrested without a warrant and were forcefully made to wear handcuffs while being taken for our bail hearing.”