India is losing one-horned rhinoceros to rampant poaching despite increased efforts by the government for their protection, said wildlife experts while stressing on the need to sensitise para-military forces to protect the species which is being hunted for its expensive horn.
At a workshop on 'National Conservation Strategy for the Indian One Horned Rhinoceros', organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the stakeholders brainstormed on an action plan to protect rhinos.
The experts said that one of the major concerns was that the one-horned rhinos were moving out of Kaziranga national park in Assam, which has 93 per cent of its entire population, due to reduced grassland habitat and rampant poaching.
"Though the rhino numbers have increased in Kaziranga, tree growth has reportedly reduced the grassland habitat. Rhinos from Kaziranga are reported to move out of the park every year during the flood season when they take shelter in higher grounds of the Karbi-Anglong forests in the state," an official from the WWF said.
He added that in recent times, straying rhinos have been killed by villagers who also removed the horn for sale.
"The current number of rhinos is more than 2,600. However, more than 93 per cent of India's entire population lives in just one protected area, Kaziranga National Park in Assam, which is a perilous situation. The greatest threat to the Indian rhino is poaching," Soumitra Dasgupta, the Additional Director General of Forests (Wildlife) in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said.
Dasgupta said though there is no scientific proof of its medicinal value, rhino horn is in great demand in traditional Asian medicine. As a result, poachers continue to kill rhinos despite increased efforts by the government for their protection.
He also said that although the work in this direction has already begun after the strategy of rhino conservation was drafted in February this year, the agenda of this workshop was to chalk out an action plan with inputs from all stakeholders and states.
"We decided the action plan in this workshop and in about 60 days we plan to release the action plan," Dasgupta said.
As per the national conservation strategy for the one-horned rhinos, the aim is to distribute rhinos in 5 per cent more area than their present distribution by 2030.
Stressing on the need to control poaching of rhinos, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) Additional Director Tilottama Verma said efforts are already on to curb poaching but there was a need to sensitise paramilitary forces and identification of the weapons being used by the poachers as well as the forest officials to catch them.
"Rhino poaching in India has reduced but to completely get rid of the practice, collective measures need to be taken, including sensitisation of para military forces," Verma said.
Speaking to PTI, she said, "The very first step is DNA profiling of the rhinos to identify them and the next is to identify the weapons being used. If a poacher is using an AK47 rifle to hunt rhinos, and the paramilitary forces have a smaller weapon then it will be difficult to catch the culprits. The forces need to be better equipped".
She also said that cameras have been installed in their habitats to catch any activity, but unless the paramilitary forces, the Assam Rifles and the BSF is sensitised, nothing will happen.
Verma, however, said that incidents of poaching have come down by almost 50 per cent but she did not have the official figures.
"There were 16-17 cases per year earlier but last year it was eight cases. I am not sure of the numbers but the cases have definitely come down. However, we need to take several steps to completely eradicate it," she said.
"By 1905, the population in India was down to less than 100 rhinos. Due to conservation efforts, the numbers increased to 600 by 1975 and the current number is more than 2600," it said.
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