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Students pledge to save Kaziranga rhinos

- Union forest minister J. Natarajan to visit the park today

Jorhat, Oct. 9: The Assam Tea Tribes Students Association (ATTSA) has taken a pledge to protect rhinos at Kaziranga National Park with the tea community students’ body activating its members in gardens near the national park.

There are more than 10 tea gardens near Kaziranga and animals stray frequently into these estates, especially during floods. When the rhinos flee their flooded habitat to take shelter in the highlands of Karbi Anglong foothills along the southern boundary of the park, where most of these gardens are located, poachers find it easier to kill and dehorn them, as these areas fall outside the notified areas of the park and lack effective anti-poaching cover.

Assistant general secretary of the ATTSA, Dhiraj Gowala, told The Telegraph today that the students’ body has directed its members based in these tea gardens to form garden-level committees and keep a watch on rhinos when they stray into the tea gardens.

“We have also directed these committees to hold awareness meetings in tea gardens regularly so that the labour community understands the importance of rhinos and how these lovely animals have made Assam proud,” Gowala said.

There are allegations that tea garden labourers are being used by poachers to provide information about rhino movements, besides reports of labourers providing logistical support to poachers. Direct involvement of some labourers in rhino poaching has also come to light earlier.

Gowala said the association has directed the garden committees to work hand-in-hand with forest staff of the national park and provide information about movement of poachers.

The students’ body had staged a road blockade near the national park on September 29 to protest the recent spate in rhino killings at Kaziranga. It had submitted a memorandum to state forest minister Rakibul Hussain through the Bokakhat civil authority, stating that it would do whatever necessary to protect rhinos.

A Kaziranga official said it was a welcome step since it would not be possible to protect rhinos without the help of the local people.

Since January this year, poachers have killed 16 rhinos, including six killed during the two waves of high floods in June-July and September. Of the six killed by poachers during the floods, four were killed in the Karbi Anglong hill areas. Besides, 28 rhinos have drowned in two waves of floods in the park. Kaziranga has lost 45 rhinos because of floods and poaching since January. Eighty-eight rhinos in Kaziranga have died of natural causes since January. The recent spate in rhino killings has raised a huge protest from all quarters. A central team had already visited Kaziranga to take stock of the situation.

Central environment and forest minister Jayanti Natarajan is scheduled to visit the park tomorrow. She will be accompanied by senior officials of her ministry, National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau.

Rakibul Hussain, apart from chief minister Tarun Gogoi, will also be there.