How shoot-at-sight order at Kaziranga saved Rhinos from extinction
Kaziranga park in Assam, popularly known as India's rhino paradise, remains a conservation success story. Thanks to the park's controversial standing orders to kill poachers caught in the park, an aggressive policy that may be as effective as it is bloody.
The guards at the park killed 50 people in the last three years, and in 2015, more people died than the number of rhinos that were killed by poachers, according to the BBC's detailed report. In some cases, innocent villagers were injured or killed for accidentally trespassing onto the park's property at night.
Indian Rhino paradise
The park was set up over a century ago in Assam, and back then it had only a handful of the Indian, one-horned rhinoceros. Kaziranga National Park, Pobitora in Marigaon district and Orang National Park in Darrang district of Assam account almost 95% of the total wild One-horned rhino in the world, which are in huge demand globally.
This is in part due to the fact that tourism to Kaziranga has been on the rise, with 170,000 annual visitors. In 2013, when a total of 27 rhinos were killed in the park, the government felt pressure to make a serious change.
Despite the threat on their lives, people continue poaching. That is because the rhino horn is extremely valuable. It can cost up to $6,000 for 100 grams. There has also been a recent price surge and demand for rhino horn in countries like Vietnam and China.
Rhino horn in full demand
Illegal rhino horn trade has been the main problem facing managers of the rhino-protected areas of Assam. Some other parts like nails, skins have very high value in Asian traditional medicinal market. According to research by Traffic (conservation programme) and World Wide Fund for Nature, some Vietnamese buyers believe horn to be a cure for cancer when ground to a fine powder.
In 1993, rhino horn was removed from the official lists of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is now only sold in Vietnam following an unsubstantiated rumour that horn cured a high-ranking official in Vietnam of cancer.
It is, of course, a myth. The horn is composed primarily of keratin, the main component of hair, nails and hoofs. If gulping potions made of keratin could have cured ailments and increased sexual appetite, people would have been consuming their own nails and hair in large amounts by now. But, the belief remains unshakable among consumers, especially in Chinese markets.
Indian Rhino even more potent
There are a total of five different rhino species. The ones that people are more familiar with are the two species native to Africa, the white rhino and the black rhino. But Asia has three species, the Javan rhino, the Sumatran rhino and the Indian rhino. The Indian rhino only has one horn, compared to its African cousins, who have two. But, on the rhino horn market, the Indian rhino horn is considered more potent.
Because of its high demand, a rhino hair is worth around Rs 1 crore in the international market. The price is high also because Naxalites of the region use it as a currency to buy arms from smugglers. Obviously, killing a rhino for its horn is a lucrative trade, a pursuit that has turned Kaziranga into a favourite destination of smugglers and poachers from the Northeast and Nepal.