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Nabarun Guha
Date of Publish: 2015-09-26

Asian wealth increase is bad news for the Indian rhino

Nabarun Guha

 

Asians today have more buying power. That is bad news for the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros.

Conservationists have attributed the surge in rhino poaching to increased wealth from the growing population in Asia. People can now pay $300,000-$600,000 per kilogram of rhino horns.

This has emboldened a ruthless cartel of poachers, smugglers and traders across South and Southeast Asia to slowly but surely push Assam’s prized pachyderm to the brink of extinction. Assam has already lost 95 rhino in the last three years to this cartel and in the ongoing year, 13 rhinos have been killed so far.

“Rhino horn trade has become a mammoth business and is similar to the way other organised crime syndicates are run. Poachers and traders functioning at the field level are mere pawns in this game as they have no knowledge about the kingpin of this trade. Much effort has been put to curb rhino poaching at the local level, but not much has been done regarding busting the main market of rhino horns in Vietnam and China,” environmentalist Anwaruddin Choudhury said.

In Assam, rhino population is concentrated in four wildlife preserves – Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Kaziranga, which has most of the rhinos, bears the brunt of poaching. Sporadic cases are reported from Orang and Pobitora where the numbers are less but density high. The animal is threatened in Manas too, where it was reintroduced via translocation.

Routes and market

Nagaland, the main market in Northeast India for rhino horns and destination for most poachers and sharpshooters, has been the biggest challenge for Kaziranga. Besides being the route for smuggling of horns to Southeast Asia via Myanmar, many poachers are from Nagaland and Manipur.

A senior police officer, who led an operation to bust a poachers’ camp in Karbi Anglong some time ago, said on condition of anonymity: “The poachers come from Nagaland and Manipur by bus and generally get down at Amoni where their local contacts take them to secured hideouts in the hills on a route through Palna and Noupani. After resting in the camp for a day or two, they enter Kaziranga through the Burapahar range. If they succeed in killing a rhino, they take a night bus to Dimapur where the horn is sold at Rs 60-80 lakh. Moreh (Manipur town on the border with Myanmar) has also emerged as a hub for rhino horns in recent times. The horn reaches Myanmar via Nagaland and Manipur and is ultimately sold for Rs 1-2 crore.”

The shooters and local helpers get a small fraction of the price the horn fetches. “The shooter nowadays gets around Rs 10-15 lakh. They hire locals, usually firewood collectors or daily wagers, as spotters for Rs 50,000-150,000 each. This is big money for the low-earning helpers but peanuts when compared to what the horn commands in the international market.”

Trend of rhino horn business in Kaziranga National Park

Period

Amount paid to shooters (in kg)

Amount paid to field helpers (in kg)

Price of horn in Dimapur local (in kg)

 

1992-93

Rs 10,000-20,000

Rs 5,500-10,000

Rs 188,890-402,400

2007-08

Rs 191,773-286,951

Rs 1651-24581.25

Rs 2,000,000

2014-15

Rs 1,000,000- 1,500,000

Rs 50,000-150,000

Rs 6,000,000- 8,000,000

Source: Rhino Poaching in Assam: Challenges and Opportunities (Esmond Martin, Bibhab Kumar Talukdar and Lucy Vigne)

The money is lesser in Orang and Pobitora even though the trade is controlled from Nagaland. Orang Forest Ranger Chakrapani Roy said: “As per our information, shooters get Rs 2-3 lakh for killing one rhino while local helpers get around Rs 50,000-100,000."

In Pobitora, the shooters and helpers share the spoils in a ratio of 60:40. "Even though Dimapur is the main market, they sell the horns to a few middlemen in Nagaon and small towns such as Juria,” Forest Ranger Ashok Das said.

The horns from Manas are mainly smuggled through Bhutan. A former park officer said, “The horns, smuggled into Bhutan via Darragamela, reach China via Siliguri and Kathmandu. Phuntsholing (major Bhutanese town on the Bengal border) is considered as one of the main hubs of rhino horn-trading.”

Use

Chinese traditionalists believe rhino horn cures snakebite, typhoid, headaches and food poisoning, and to treat fever and rheumatism in powder form mixed with other ingredients. The demand has increased even though modern research has junked the horn’s curative powers. In countries like Vietnam, it is also in demand as a virility enhancer and party drug – more than even cocaine.

Rhino expert Bibhab Talukdar said, “A prized species like rhino cannot be allowed to be wiped out because of the illogical and stupid belief of some people. The forest department, all other law enforcement agencies and stakeholders will thus have to join hands to win the war against poaching.”

The poachers are high on firepower; abundance of illegal arms in Assam is attributed to their activity.

A report of the Rhino Task Force, formed by National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2014, says poaching will drop drastically if 15 km area around Kaziranga is sanitised. This is a tough task in a militancy scenario.

The report also suggested Central Bureau of Investigation should handle cases where rhino horns are not recovered within two days of poaching unless intelligence inputs say the horns have not been taken out of the park. Another suggestion was establishment of a full-fledged office of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) in Guwahati with branches at Dimapur, Imphal and Itanagar.

The gunning down of 26 poachers in Kaziranga during the current year underscores the efforts to fight poaching. But the organised wildlife crime will need better coordination among the state forest departments, police, customs, army, paramilitary forces, CBI and WCCB to be erased.

( Nabarun Guha is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. He can be reached at nabarunguha.29@gmail.com )

Please find below a link of a  music video by Aaranyak -- Moi Ekxingia Gorh’ (I am the one-horned Rhino)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6tngKTTC68

( Also available in nezine.com  video section)

 

 

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