Poaching scares Assam rhino's existence

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Guwahati, Mar 9 (UNI) Not just the famed one-horned rhino, but the dense forests sheltering it are also in danger in Assam, as poaching and deforestation continues unabated.

Between 2001-08, as many as 72 rhinos were poached in the state, with a staggering 18 killed in Kaziranga National Park (KNP) last year.

Four rhinos had already been poached so far this year in this World Heritage site.

In revealing information on the forest and wildlife conservation and protection measures, state Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said even the dense forest area was also fast declining.

The dense forest cover in the state, as per Forest Survey of India reports, had come down from 15,548 sq km in 1997 to 12,831 sq km in 2005.

Moreover, of the total 26,748 sq km forest area in the state, as much as 3,30,000 hectares had been encroached.

With decline in forest area cover, animals had ventured into human habitat, making them more vulnerable to attacks.

The biggest casualty by far had been the one-horned rhino, which is found only in Assam and had become an easy target of poachers in wake of adequate security measures to protect them.

The KNP, which shelters close 2,000 rhinos in the state, is ill- equipped to protect its most famous inmate.

The park area had risen from 430 sq km to 858 sq km, with another added 340 sq km. However, the security and management apparatus of the KNP had not risen in proportionate manner, resulting in staff shortage, a major reason for continuing poaching.

The park, staffed by about 550 people, needs close to 2,000 employees to guard it properly, besides sophisticated arms and tracking facilities.

Though the government had nabbed 143 poachers between 2001-08, the conviction rate was abysmal as the culprits take advantage of loopholes in the laws governing wildlife and make a safe acquittal.

Besides the rhino, as many as 10 tigers were killed by poachers and 13 elephants between 2001-08.

On the other hand, 26 rhinos died due to floods during the same period, besides four tigers and five elephants. As per 2002 records, the state has 2006 rhinos, 264 tigers and 5246 elephants.

UNI SG PP SW BD1636

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