Dwindling strength of forest guards in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) has led to an alarming rise in poaching of the highly endangered one-horned rhino, according to a report of a high-level inquiry committee.
Alarmed over killing of nearly 20 rhinos last year alone, the state forest department had constituted the committee headed by forest commissioner B B Hagjer which has put its finger on inadequate number of guards in the park, a world heritage site, as a major reason for the poaching.
Rapid growth of shrubs that have choked the grass, use of sophisticated weapons by poachers, rise in number of other animals and doubling the area of the park from 430 sq km to 859 sq km were the other reasons listed in the report for the decimation of the rhinos.
The committee recommended regular recruitment of forest staff, setting up of a special task force exclusively for the Kaziranga National Park and national reserve forest status for adjoining reserve forests to prevent poaching.
KNP Director S N Buragohain, while refusing to comment on the staff strength, said that after doubling of the area of the park, it had become difficult for the forest guards to man every nook and corner.
"Moreover, it is difficult to maintain the required strength as many of them become sick and it is impossible to find a replacement", Buragohain said.
Admitting the poor staff strength, Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said though the size of the park has been doubled and the number of other animals has risen, the number of guards posted inside the forest has been the same for a long time.
The minister felt that the forest department alone was not in a position to execute the recommendation and cooperation of other departments was needed.
Apart from recommending appointment of more forest guards, the committee wanted setting up of forest camps every two kms, equipping the forest personnel with sophisticated arms and gadgets, augmenting the intelligence network and infusing young blood in frontline patrolling.
The report has suggested that poachers could be having links with militant outfits of the region but stopped short of naming them.
The minister stressed the need for defeating the poachers, who were part of a flourishing international illegal wildlife racket, by providing sophisticated equipment and necessary infrastructure to the park authorities.