By Peter Alex Todd
Golaghat (Assam), Jan.25 : Despite claims of security measures being in place to prevent poaching activities in Kaziranga National Park, the recent incident of gouging out a horn of a female rhino and killing of a calf has served as a wake up call for the wildlife authorities here.
It was presumed that stringent measures under the Wildlife Protection Act and active participation of wildlife enthusiasts and voluntary organization had dealt a severe blow the activities of poachers. But the latest incident proved it a fallacy.
Killing of four rhinos by poachers during the first month of this year alone speaks volumes. Twenty one killed in 2007.
On January 7, a group of poachers shot dead a male rhino in Bagori Range of the sanctuary.
On January 19, a female rhino and three-and-a-half year old calf became a victim of poaching activities near Methoni Tea Estate, two kilometers off the sanctuary.
In the last incident, the rhino was shot at just prior to midnight but survived due to its thick skin coat. Poachers gouged the horn of the mother rhino and killed the calf. It was the most gruesome killing in the park history and the most painful for any wildlife lover.
"There was complacency. There was also problem in leadership, administration level, political level and staff lever. I request the Prime Minister and authorities that they should take interest and the government should take some action. They should come up with a solution. The higher officials of the Forest Department should seriously look into the matter," said Bibhuti Talukdar of Aranyayak, a voluntary forum.
"Whatever punishment is prescribed in the Wildlife Act should be implemented. The present fine is rupees 25,000 and 7 years behind the bars. But it should increase to rupees one lakh," he further added.
People For Animals (PFA) also have expressed shock over the recent incident. They have shot off a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India.
"It has never happened in the park's history. To catch a rhino one requires at least 10 to 12 persons. But I am really shocked. How could this be possible? Who did it? We have to find that first. We have forced the government and alert them to take some action as soon as possible. For rhino protection, one has to make a team," said Sangeeta Goswami, activist, People For Animals. "The Act passed in 1960 states the protection of animals must be given importance but no one is giving it any importance," she added.
However, wildlife rangers of Kaziranga Park said that the grievously injured rhino was treated at Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in the sanctuary but died 38 hours later due to bleeding, on January 21 at 10.45 a.m.
Five empty cartridges of .303 and .315 rifles from the site of killings were recovered.
Kaziranga National Park in Assam is the world famous abode of the one-horned Asiatic rhinoceros. It is one among the UNESCO's designated World Heritage Sites. A total of 1.855 rhinos was the census count in the exercise carried out in 2006.
According to the officials of Kaziranga National Park, now-a-days poachers armed with sophisticated weapons are on the prowl posing a serious challenge to ill-equipped and understaffed wildlife rangers.