The death of three rhinos in the last few days inside Jaldapara National Park in Alipurduar district has once again raised questions about the effectiveness of rhino conservation.
While the forest department accuses a section of villagers of being hand-in-glove with the poachers, forest gram sabhas hold a section of forest department employees responsible the for regular poaching of rhinos.
On Saturday morning, members of Mendabari gram sabha recovered the decomposed carcass of a rhino under Mendabari beat of Chilapata range of Jaldapara National Park (JNP). That the horn of the rhino was missing confirmed that it was killed by poachers.
Before that, carcasses of two rhinos were found under Sisamara beat and Mayurdanga beat in Jaldapara range of JNP. Foresters said one of the two animals died due to fighting and another died a natural death.
The recovery of carcasses of three rhinos at a time when the rhino census was on has raised questions about the effectiveness of rhino conservation. On Sunday, members of five forest gram sabhas gheraoed forest officials at Chilapata forest range and questioned how the rhino was poached when the census was going on.
Pabitra Rava, secretary of Mendabari gram sabha, and Sunder Singh Rava, secretary of Kurmai gram sabha, blamed the “lackadaisical” attitude of the forest department for regular poaching of rhinos inside JNP. Talking to Hindustan Times, Sunder Singh Rava said, “We strongly suspect the involvement of a section of forest staff in rhino poaching.”
Both Pabitra and Sunder Singh said, “When the carcass of rhino was recovered on Saturday morning from Mendabari beat, forest officials were not ready to accept it as a case of poaching.” On the other hand, a senior wildlife official said, “We are looking into whether some forest villagers were involved in the poaching.”
Jaldapara is among four forest tracts in India where one-horned rhinos can be found in the wild. The other home of rhinos in North Bengal is Gorumara National Park. The others in India are Assam’s Kaziranga and Manas National Park.
On October 17 last year, the carcass of a rhino was found inside the core area of the Gourmara National Park. It is believed the rhino was shot for its horn by poachers from the North-east.
JNP has been regularly hit by poaching attempts. On the night of October 6, members of a forest gram sabha foiled a poaching bid at Chilapata range of JNP and caught one person- a resident of Kokrajhar in Assam. The arrest and the foiling of poaching bid came in less than two months of the killing of a male rhino inside JNP by poachers.
On August 15, the carcass of a male rhino was found from north range of JWS.
Before that another rhino carcass was found from Kodal Bustee. On April 20, a carcass of an adult male rhino was found from near Holong forest bunglow.
On Sunday Pabitra and Sunder Sing Rava said that although 12 gram sabhas in Cooch Behar forest division have formed a joint committee as per the Forest Rights Act to protect forests and rhinos, the forest department is yet to extend cooperation to the committee.
The committee in August also submitted letters to senior forest officials about the need for the forest department and gram sabhas to join hands to protect rhinos from poachers.