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Sonowal keen on park safety

Jorhat, June 3: Union minister of state for sports, skill development and youth affairs Sarbananda Sonowal has reportedly assured Kaziranga National Park (KNP) authorities that he will take up their request with the defence ministry for aerial surveillance of the park to tackle poaching.

At a high-level meeting held at Kohora range of the park on Saturday, Sonowal assured the park authorities of their request to take up the proposal of seeking army assistance in tackling rhino poaching.

Kaziranga director M.K. Yadava, commissioner (Upper Assam division) S.I. Hussain, senior park officials, along with senior district administration and police officials of the districts over which the park is spread, attended the meeting. Sources said the meeting took stock of the anti-poaching measures initiated by the park to contain rhino poaching.

Yadava confirmed today that Sonowal has responded positively to the park’s proposal seeking the army’s assistance to add more teeth to the anti-poaching drive. Yadava said the park authorities had recently submitted a proposal to the army’s 4 Corps headquarters at Tezpur requesting aerial surveillance over the entire park by army helicopter. Yadava said the minister had promised to personally take up the matter with the defence ministry so that the process of getting the approval gets expedited and contributes to the anti-poaching efforts.

The KNP director said carrying out surveillance over the 800 square km park, that includes new areas added to the north bank of the Brahmaputra, was part of the proposal to assist the forest personnel comprising forest guards, boatmen, home guards and Assam Forest Protection Force staff.

This will be done by way of training and developing a proper intelligence gathering mechanism.

He said helicopters making regular flying sorties over the park area could be of great use as the movement and hideouts of poachers could be monitored better. The army personnel can do this by taking pictures and also by observation. The army authorities had told the park officials that their (KNP) request would be forwarded to the ministry of defence for necessary approval.

The park director said the army’s assistance in keeping a close aerial watch over Kaziranga has been sought after the defence ministry last year had turned down the Assam government’s request to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for surveillance. In April 2013, for about a week, successful test flights of UAVs were conducted at the national park, which is an Unesco World Heritage site.

Park sources said last year out of the 42 rhinos killed in the state by poachers, 27 were killed in Kaziranga itself, while this year, out of the 19 rhinos killed till date in the state, 15 have been killed inside and outside of Kaziranga. Yesterday, a decomposed carcass of a rhino with its horn missing was recovered from Azarkathani area under Bagori range of Kaziranga.

There are about 160 anti poaching camps with about 1,200 staff belonging to different categories of organisations guarding the park.

On Sunday, forest minister Rakibul Hussain had released a white paper which stated that a task force, headed by additional director-general of police (special task force), with officials from forest and home departments, was formed on May 16 for evolving a strategy, including the operational mechanism, to tackle rhino poaching.


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