Reethu Ravi, The Logical Indian | May 17, 2020
In the wake of the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, with officials focusing on enforcing lockdown and the public confined to their homes, instances of poaching have seen a sharp rise across India.
According to reports, armed poachers have been moving inside national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country. As officials also depend on local people to receive tip-offs on suspicious activity, the lockdown has inadvertently cut down such tip-offs which the poachers have taken advantage of.
In a recent case, an adult male Indian rhinoceros was found gunned down and its horn hacked off at Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam on Saturday, May 9.
This is reportedly the first incident in thirteen months, after a drastic decrease in poaching since 2019. Upon investigation, the park authorities found eight empty bullet cartridges from an AK-47 assault rifle at the scene suggesting that the crime was well-organised.
“The carcass of the adult male rhino was found by our personnel on Saturday evening at the Agaratoli range of the park with its horn missing. It seems the poaching incident took place on Wednesday,” P Sivakumar, Director of KNP, was quoted by Hindustan Times.
“This is the first case of use of AK-47 rifles to kill rhino in the Agaratoli range of the park. Only trained groups who know how to handle such arms can indulge in such kind of poaching. We suspect they had come from the nearby Karbi Anglong district,” he added.
According to reports, due to the lockdown, wildlife is moving closer to human habitations, making them vulnerable to poachers. The lack of vehicles on the highway near KNP has also witnessed animals moving closer to the boundaries. Officials say that since the start of the lockdown in late March, attempts of poaching have increased in and around the park. Since then, at least six attempts to kill the rare animals were thwarted by park rangers and the Special Rhino Protection Force (SRPF) set up by the state government.
According to The Hindu report, on April 11, an SRPF member suffered bullet injuries during an encounter with a group of poachers in the Biswanath division of KNP. Two days later, the police in Biswanath district arrested six people for attempted poaching and assault.
Further, on April 13, the police in Sonitpur district arrested five people involved in attempted poaching at the Nameri National Park. “Lockdown appears to have given rhino poachers free time to regroup and plan strikes in Kaziranga after more than a year.
The poachers know there will be demand for rhino horns in China and other consumer countries in Asia after the pandemic-induced slump is over,” KNP Director P. Sivakumar told the media. Hunters can earn nearly $150,000 for one rhino horn or around $60,000 per kilo on a black market.
According to police officials, the detained poachers had confessed that they planned to “stock up on animal body parts” during the ongoing “lean period” to strike it big when the demand from smugglers increases. Since July last year, the SRPF have been deployed across the park to keep a check on rhino poaching and related activities. Since 2016, poaching of the one-horned rhinos fell to a drastic low.
Only 3 poaching incidents were reported in 2019, with the last one being reported on April 1, 2019. Following the poaching incident of the rhino, Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Parveen Kaswan, in a series of tweets, explained why the Indian one-horned rhinos are vulnerable to poaching. “The Indian one-horned rhino, despite being blessed with a thick hide/skin, has a major disadvantage: an abysmally poor eye-sight.
Hence, it demarcates its “territory” by its dung/excreta and it triangulates its destination via the smell of its dung,” he tweeted. “So, if u want to catch this majestic beast, all u need to do is simply find patches of rhino’s dung in marshy/swampy lands.
Poachers precisely exploit these two traits of a rhino: its poor eyesight and its territorial imprint with its dung. Once they find traces of rhino dung, they lay traps for the rhino in and around that area by digging the ground,” he added. He further added that peak time to poach a rhino is between 1 Am and 3:30 Am, as the pitch darkness, combined with the poor eye-sight of the rhinos, makes them fall into the trap laid by the poachers.
“The Rhino, despite its tough skin across the body, has relatively softer skin around its horn. So, the poachers inject tranquillizer in the soft area around the horn & once, it phases out due to soporific sedatives, the poacher cuts the horn with a razor-sharp knife, that is specifically designed for this purpose,” Kaswan said.
“If the cut is made on its skull such that no nerve has been damaged, then, under medication and care, the rhino can regrow its horn in 2-3 yrs. But if any connecting nerve has been ripped off, while pulling the horn out, I’m afraid there is no hope,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rajasthan has also seen an increase in poaching of wildlife across the state. In over the last one month, the wildlife flying squad of the Rajasthan forest department has registered six cases of illegal hunting of chinkara(Indian gazelle) – the state animal – in Jodhpur.
Six poachers were also arrested. Chinkaras are designated an endangered animal under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protecting Act, 1972. In a recent incident on Sunday, May 10, 17-year-old Mukesh Bishnoi fought off armed poachers, who shot a chinkara in Jodhpur.
For his bravery, the teenager was also given a certificate of appreciation by the Akhil Bharatiya Bishnoi Mahasabha. Mukesh, along with team member Pukhraj, had gone for night patrol when the incident occurred. They are a part of the 15-member team who protects the chinkara and has been going on night patrol every day to keep vigil since the lockdown started, reported Hindustan Times. Other than chinkara, blackbuck, mongoose, and peacocks have also been poached in many parts of the country.
According to a Down To Earth report, the illegal transport of birds has also increased amid lockdown, with trading conducted at the Nepal border through Uttar Pradesh. For hunting wild animals, including a tiger and deer, people were also arrested Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. Meanwhile, on April 30, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate, issued an advisory to all the states and union territories to check poaching in all reserves, parks, and sanctuaries. Following this, Rajasthan Forest and Wildlife Department has ramped up efforts to protect animals.
They have identified 16 species which have been subject to illegal trading and poaching. The species in the list will be monitored and their population will be kept under strict vigil.