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Kaziranga questions role of police

A rhino at Kaziranga National Park

Guwahati, Aug. 5: The forest authorities of Kaziranga National Park today told Gauhati High Court that police were not giving enough priority to trans-national wildlife crime cases such as rhino poaching and pointed out the “loopholes” in the investigations into these cases.

A detailed report on the long-term protection of the one-horned rhinos in the park said the role of police was extremely important in curbing wildlife crime as rhino horns were smuggled out for international trade through the neighbouring states. “Once a wildlife crime — primarily poaching of rhinos — is committed inside the park, the horn is smuggled through human habituated areas, villages, highways, railways to neighbouring states for international export. So, the role of police is extremely important but the police do not provide enough priority to such trans-national crime. Majority of police personnel are unaware that wildlife laws define the duties of police along with forest staffs,” the report said.

Park director M.K. Yadava today submitted the voluminous report before the division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan. The court had earlier asked the park authorities to submit the report in connection with three PILs and two writ petitions filed by one Mrinal Saharia and an NGO alleging failure of the government departments to curb rhino poaching and other wildlife crimes in the park.

Kaziranga National Park — a World Heritage Site — hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinos and it has the highest density of tigers among the world’s protected areas.

Apart from rhinos and tigers, the 800 square km-park has elephants, wild buffalos, swamp deer, hog bears, sambhars, wild boars among other animals and birds. The number of one-horned rhinos in the park had increased to 2,325 in 2013 from 2,048 in 2009 and the number of tourists visiting the park, too, has increased.

But the increase in rhino poaching has invited sharp criticism from all quarters. The forest department has been accused by many organisations for failing to protect the one-horned rhinos. Investigations have revealed that an inter-state racket of poachers was smuggling rhino horns through neighbouring Nagaland and Manipur to the markets of Southeast Asian countries, where the horns are used to prepare traditional medicines.

“There is virtually no co-ordination between the enforcement agencies and the forest department of the neighbouring states which are the main conduits and houses majority of the rhino horn traders. Border dispute finds centrestage as far as co-ordination between the police forces of Assam and Nagaland is concerned. The park authorities do not have reach outside the park area, not to speak of influences outside the state,” the report said.

It said the crime scene is often not preserved leading to tampering of evidence and wiping away of vital fingerprints.

The report cited the porous borders, lack of sophistication, lack of conviction of poachers, growing population around the park’s fringe areas, easy access to international markets through the neighbouring states, among others that resulted in poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga.

The report also mentioned the steps, including the anti-poaching camps and use of dog squads taken to curb poaching and other wildlife crimes.