Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rhino Deaths Suggest Doubts About Effectiveness of Conservation

Indian rhinoceros

Jaldapara National Park in West Bengal's Alipurduar district lost three rhinos in the last few days and the incidents raised doubts about the effectiveness of rhino conservation. While the forest department put the blame on a section of villagers for being accomplices of poachers, forest gram sabhas accused a section of the department's employees for the ongoing poaching of rhinos. On Saturday morning, members of Mendabari gram sabha reclaimed a decomposed rhino carcass under Mendabari beat of Jaldapara's Chilapata forest range. The animal was missing a horn which indicated that it was killed by poachers. Before that, two rhino carcasses were discovered under Mayurdanga and Sisamara beats in the national park. Foresters stated that one of the two rhinos died as a result of fighting and another of natural causes. The recovery of the three rhino carcasses occurred at the time when a rhino census was being conducted. On Sunday, members from five forest gram sabhas gheraoed forest officials at Chilapata and interrogated them on how the rhinos were killed when the census was going. According to secretary of Mendabari gram sabha Pabitra Rava and secretary of Kurmai gram sabha Sunder Singh Rava, the deaths of the rhinos were a result of the forest department's "lackadaisical" attitude towards continuous poaching. They further added that the forest officials were not ready to accept the death of a rhino recovered from Mendabari gram sabha as an incident of poaching. A senior wildlife official, however, suspected that some forest officials were involved in poaching.
Jaldapara National Park

It is very disturbing that forest villagers and wildlife officials are locked in an intense state of hostility towards one another as to who is responsible for the continuation of rhino poaching in Jaldapara National Park. This national park is one four national parks that are home to India's rhinos, but has been regularly hit by poaching bids numerous times. One incident occurred on the night of October 6 2014 when members from a forest gram sabha thwarted a poaching attempt at Chilapata range and captured one person from the town of Kokrajhar in Assam. The arrest and thwarting of the poaching attempt came in less than two months of the poaching of a male rhino inside Jaldapara by poachers. Although twelve gram sabhas have established a joint committee as per the Forest Rights Act to protect the forests and its wild animals, the forest department is yet to expand cooperation to the committee. The committee even presented letters to senior forest officials about the need for the forest department and gram sabhas to join forces to protect rhinos from poaching. It is highly essential that the forest department and forest villagers must team up to stand up against the threat of poaching instead of accusing one another for the ongoing poaching of rhinos in Jaldapara National Park. This national park has been frequently hit by poaching and one should not wait for another poaching incident to happen in order to protect the rhinos and other wildlife. It is time to start acting and fast.

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