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Speed up poaching cases: NGO

Guwahati, March 14: Aaranyak, a biodiversity conservation society, today urged the Assam forest department not to go ahead with the proposal to dehorn rhinos as a measure for their protection.

“We feel that protection measures must be strengthened on a priority basis to protect the rhino. Dehorning is not the ultimate solution to check poaching. Dehorning will only shift the problem from a few dehorned animals to the others,” secretary general of Aaranyak, Bibhab Talukdar, said at a news conference here today.

The forest department has set up a committee to examine the feasibility of dehorning rhinos in Assam. The proposal was discussed at a meeting of Indian Rhino Vision 2020 programme in January 30 to review the translocation of rhinos to Manas National Park. The move is being considered as an anti-poaching measure after seven rhinos were killed in Manas since 2011, threatening the success of the project.

He said proactive efforts should focus on ground protection in rhino-bearing areas including intelligence gathering and maintaining a harmonious relationship with local villagers to get key inputs. “We all realise that current protection systems need to be more effective to check poachers,” he said.

Aaranyak also demanded the Assam government should settle cases related to rhino poaching through fast-track courts within a year. According to available data, 21 rhinos were killed in Assam in 2012, 41 in 2013 and eight so far this year.

“We are losing a large number of rhinos to poaching every year. It is time the state government put more emphasis on not just arresting but also convicting poachers according to existing laws. Research on wildlife trade has revealed that the international gangs of poachers operate mostly in South Africa, but if wildlife protection and legal measures remain weak, they may well get spread their areas of operation in our state. Poachers should be prosecuted through fast-track courts and all such cases settled within a year,” said Talukdar.

The existing forest guards in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks should also be trained and provided with long-range rifles to combat poachers. In this manner, the guards will be able to target poachers from a distance, without having to directly face them, he claimed.

“The finance department does not release funds on time even when they are being sent from the Centre. This hampers the protection measures on the ground in rhino-bearing areas. The department should be made accountable for this delay,” said Firoz Ahmed, a wildlife biologist with Aaranyak.