To Protect Rhinos, This National Park Just Shoots People

April 15, 2018 at 6:03 pm

A national park in India has resorted to shooting at least 50 people to protect some of the last rhinos on earth

In just over a hundred years, the global rhinoceros population has dropped from half a million, to just a few thousand.

Two of three species in Africa were recently declared extinct, and two of three in Asia are critically endangered.

The only species that has a realistic chance of survival in Asia is the one-horned Indian rhino. Once critically endangered itself, a national park in the country has allowed their numbers to grow to 2400.

Kaziranga National Park, located in far east India, has a controversial way of protecting the animal that was once their national icon – shooting potential poachers on the spot.

The government has granted the park’s rangers powers normally reserved to armed forces policing civil unrest and given them considerable protection against prosecution for shooting and killing people in the park.

At one point park rangers were killing more than 20 people per year. In 2015, more people were shot dead by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers.

Rhino horn is sold for up to $6000 per 100 grams in Vietnam and China where it is marketed as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to erectile dysfunction.

Indian rhinos have smaller horns than African rhinos, but are thought to be far more potent.

“The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” one of the guards told the BBC.

“Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”

“First we warn them – who are you?” said the park’s director Satyendra Singh. “But if they resort to firing we have to kill them. First we try to arrest them, so we get the information, what are the linkages, who are others in the gang?”

Singh revealed 50 poachers had been killed in just the past three years.

Conservation efforts in India tend to focus on protecting a few emblematic species. Rhinos and tigers have become patriotic, national symbols.

Princess Kate has visited Kaziranga National Park

When the number of rhinos killed by poachers doubled in 2013, local politicians demanded action.

The head of the park, M. K. Yadava, was happy to oblige.

Environmental crimes, including poaching, are more serious that murder, in his opinion:

“They erode the very root of existence of all civilizations on this earth silently,” he explained.

But local, tribal people claim the park and its anti-poaching efforts are threatening their ancient way of life.

Not only are the indigenous people getting caught in the crossfire of guards and poachers, they are being kicked off their ancestral land to make more space for the recovering population of rhinos.

Big, wild animals like tigers and rhinos need lots of space. To accommodate them India is planning a massive expansion of its network of national of parks. It is great news for conservation, but the plans involve relocating 900 villages, which are home to 200,000 people.

Their cause has been taken up by Survival International.

The World Wildlife Federation has admitted to funding combat and ambush training for Kaziranga’s guards and provided equipment including night vision goggles for the park’s anti-poaching effort.

“No park would exist in India without having regular anti-poaching operations,” says naturalist and writer Valmik Thapar. “Anti-poaching is an essential element of conservation.”

“There are some that do it well. There are some that fail miserably… and they don’t have any tigers. So there are some tiger reserves in India, that actually don’t have any tigers at all because they have all been poached.

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