The illegal demand for rhino horn in East and South-east Asia has led to a record number of rhinos being poached in Assam within the first three months of 2013. Yet another translocated rhino fell to the poacher’s gun on April 2nd in Manas National Park leaving a 15 day old calf orphan with a slim chance of survival. WWF-India strongly condemns this reprehensible act.
Earlier, on March 23rd 2013, the calf was discovered by the monitoring team, and its mother’s carcass, with its horn and claws missing, was reported early morning on April 3rd 2013. It was identified as Rhino 17 and was translocated to the Park in 2012.
Rhino 17 is the fourth translocated rhino to have been lost to poachers in Manas in the last two years and the 16th rhino killed in Assam so far this year. It was last seen alive on March 28th with its calf. Out of the 18 rhinos translocated to Manas National Park only 14 remain alive now. The rhinos had been translocated under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 programme (IRV 2020) - a joint initiative of the Department of Environment and Forests, Government of Assam, WWF-India, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Bodoland Territorial Council and supported by a number of local organizations.
In spite of the support provided under IRV 2020 to Manas National Park to upgrade its infrastructure and monitoring capabilities to enable better protection for the translocated rhinos, the poaching of rhinos is continuing unabated. After the previous poaching of a translocated rhino in Manas at the beginning of this year, a series of decisions were taken by the Assam Forest Department to strengthen security and patrolling in the National Park. However, they have not been able to stop poaching in Manas as is apparent from the latest incident.
The high demand for rhino horn from East Asian countries through the illegal wildlife trade continues to pose the greatest threat for the rhinos of Assam. After decades of conservation success which resulted in the population of rhinos in the state rising to approximately 2,400 currently, the spike in poaching over the last couple of years and the increasing use of sophisticated weapons to kill rhinos seems to indicate that poaching networks are strengthening. To avoid loss of these hard-fought gains it is imperative that urgent steps are taken by the government to implement immediate and more stringent protection measures in and around Manas National Park.
In addition to strengthening the protection regime, there is a need for effective coordination between enforcement agencies and the Forest Department. Anticipating the surge in demand for rhino horns in the international markets, WWF-India had written to the Hon’ble Minster of Environment and Forests, Government of India, Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan on 19th January 2012 outlining several remedial measures.
It is imperative for a multi-agency approach to strengthen the capacities of enforcement agencies to tackle organized crime syndicates that are smuggling rhino horn through the black market across international borders. In addition, as decided at last month’s Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), there is a need for greater coordination among member countries to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products like rhino horn, which is believed wrongly to be a miracle cure in countries like Vietnam.
WWF-India remains committed to conservation of rhinos through the IRV 2020 programme, and feels that further translocation of rhinos to Manas could be done only after effective protection measures are established to ensure zero poaching in the Manas National Park.