Assam: Rhino numbers rise, but rampant poaching continues
Assam’s biggest success story belies one of its worst records: the hardy rhinos are growing in numbers despite rampant poaching with sophisticated assault rifles and not a single conviction of poachers over the past five years.india Updated: Mar 31, 2015 00:20 IST
Assam’s biggest success story belies one of its worst records: the hardy rhinos are growing in numbers despite rampant poaching with sophisticated assault rifles and not a single conviction of poachers over the past five years.
The forest department’s biannual census in Kaziranga National Park shows a healthy upswing in the rhino population — from 2,330 two years ago to 2,401 in 2015 — although a hundred of these majestic endangered animals fell to poachers’ bullets for their prized horn that fetches millions of dollars in the clandestine international animal parts market.
At the same time, a reply to a right to information (RTI) application reveals that the state hasn’t been able to convict a single of the 243 people arrested for poaching since 2009.
“It is really sad that those accused of killing rhinos are roaming free,” said Rohit Choudhary, the RTI applicant and wildlife lover.
Many arrests have been made but these hardly acted as a deterrent because the majority of cases are pending in court, shows data provided by the state government.
The RTI reply says showpiece Kaziranga and three other wildlife havens in Assam witnessed the maximum onslaught on rhinos.
As many as 93 cases have been reported during the period and most of the poachers were armed with AK-47 and AK-56 rifles, confirming the worst fears of conservationists and security agencies that extremist groups were behind the killings.
The prime accused in a number of cases were leaders of extremist groups such as the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) and Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers, the RTI reply says.
“Weapons such as assault rifles point to the involvement of extremists in poaching,” a forest official said.
A rhino horn fetches around $1,00,000 a kilo (Rs 62.50 lakh) and there are indications of a alarming tradeoff: militant groups supplying sophisticated arms to poachers in return for cuts from the lucrative illegal trade to finance extremist activities.
The RTI reply says a KLNLF leader gave AK-56 rifles to poachers in 2012, two years after the group declared a truce with the government. None of its leaders have been arrested, though.
In April 2013, police intercepted exchanges between Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers leaders that revealed rebel arms and ammunition were provided to kill a rhino.