Rhinos in trouble

Poaching and encroachments threaten one-horned rhionos at Orang National Park

By Nava Thakuria
Published: Thursday 30 November 2000

poaching and encroachments threaten the 79 sq km Orang National Park ( onp ), habitat of the famous one-horned rhinocerous in Assam. During the last five years, no less than 44 rhinos have fallen prey to poachers, official sources admit.

Barring one natural death, the sanctuary, which falls on the bank of the Brahmaputra, lost 10 rhinos in 1996 to poachers; followed by the killing of 11 and 12 rhinos in the next two years, respectively. In 1999, the figure stood at seven, and till June this year the park had already lost four rhinos to poachers.

"We have to take a strong vigil. But with limited staff and no modern arms and ammunition to fight the poachers, how do you expect to control them?" says C R Bhobora, district forest officer (wildlife) and incharge of the park.

Located at a distance of 120 km from Guwahati, onp with a population of 46-odd one horn rhinos, is the third important habitat of the endangered animal after Kaziranga National Park (which shelters more than 1,600 rhinos) and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary (70 rhinos) in the state.

Encroachments in the south and west of the national park have also posed a threat. The islands of the river Brahmaputra, in the south of onp, are inhabited by people. "Hence, there is a constant biotic pressure on the park," says Bhobora. The police department has to increase their vigil to curb poaching as most of the poachers reportedly enter from these areas, he adds. This calls for better coordination between forest and police officials. "I think it is necessary for them to jointly prepare a blue print," says Bhobora.

At present, the park has 55 regular staff members and 30 casual labourers. But they are not enough. There are also 21 anti-poaching camps inside the sanctuary, but forest guards are not well equipped.

Hari Charan Das of Aranya Surakshya Samiti, a non-governmental organisation, is of the opinion that the sanctuary must be equipped with sophisticated arms and ammunition. Where encroachments are concerned, he says: "Few local politicians are seen instigating the encroachers to build their vote bank. They never think about the sanctuary or endangered habitants."


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