Sophisticated armoury to curb rhino poaching

The Assam Government recently empowered our forest guards to use sophisticated armoury to curb rhino poaching. The weapons list includes INSAS Assault rifles, AK 47s, 12mm Bore Shotguns and 9mm Pistols. Better late than never, we believe such weaponry would be a stiff deterrence to the poachers. But mere weapons cannot curb poaching. At best, this is just a starting point in the efforts to curb poaching. It is by no means an end to all impediments to poaching. Let’s also hope that this weaponry is deployed equitably among all the vulnerable ecosystems in Assam. Places like Dibru Saikhowa, Sonai Rupai, Ultapani Forest Reserve and Nambor lack proper protection mechanisms. 

Ammending the Arms Act of India

We assume this decision adheres to all clauses, sections and subsections of the Arms Act of India and can withstand all legal scrutiny. If necessary, the Parliament should amend the Arms Act to empower forest guards to use such weapons in anti-poaching exercises. 

Dedicated Wildlife Crime Cell to curb rhino poaching

The next logical step to curb poaching would be to create a dedicated Crime Cell manned by professionals. Its mandate would be to investigate wildlife crimes – from collecting forensic evidence to prosecution in the courts of law. If necessary, the cell should consist of experts from other agencies. Our officials mostly have to depend on circumstantial evidence to get a conviction in the courts. Generally, there are no eyewitnesses in poaching cases. Aspects such as sealing the crime scenes and forensic evidence are imperative to withstand legal scrutiny. And for that, we need professionals to man the cell.

This cell should also have dedicated lawyers to ensure convictions in the courts. Then our overworked forest officials will be free from court-related issues. They would then concentrate on anti-poaching activities like strengthening the informer networks. The Government also needs to set up dedicated Wildlife Crime Courts to fast-track the legal processes.

Habitat-based conservation approach to curb rhino poaching

The Government needs to change focus from species-based to habitat-based protection mechanisms. They should refrain from ad-hoc policies to silence or appease the voices of certain sections of the media. It needs no reiteration that wildlife will survive only through habitat protection. Too much of a single species-centric approach kills the very ethos of conservation. Conservation of habitats is a long-drawn process and is not an event for the gallery. It encompasses a lot of other things apart from weaponry. 

Improving school infrastructure

A priority for a sustainable conservation goal is the conditions of the schools in the vicinity of protected areas. These schools need an overhaul of existing infrastructure, including well-equipped libraries. The quality and content of teachers and support staff should improve. There is no denying that the students of these schools are the future custodians of the fragile ecosystem. They should have the best exposure and education to play the role of a custodian to perfection.

The curriculum should include field trips, nature orientation camps and excursions. All-weather roads leading to the schools and a round-the-clock power supply are imperative.

Crop and Livestock Insurance Scheme

Loss of crops and livestock to wild animals is an alarming issue in fringe villages. The authorities should design an insurance scheme by paying the requisite premiums for the villagers. We have to be cautious that conservation activities do not infringe on the economic freedom of these people. These people live under constant threat from natural calamities and wildlife rampages. Man-animal conflict in the fringe villages of protected areas is increasing in Assam. It will not be far when these simple villagers turn enemies for our already fast-diminishing wildlife. The key to a successful conservation movement is to empower the local community to be an integral part of the efforts. Instilling a sense of pride among these people is an asset in the fight to curb poaching. 

Reserving jobs for locals to curb rhino poaching

Hundreds of local youths serving as temporary workers in the park should receive the first preference during new recruitments. There are instances of being a temporary worker for more than 20 years. These youths spent the prime of their life to curb rhino poaching in the park in hostile conditions. In the process, they have lost all other skill sets to earn a decent living. They have no access to health insurance or pension schemes. Their employment is at the whims and fancies of the authorities. Underpaid, overworked and demoralised, they live their lives in poverty. They have nothing to fall back upon after losing their jobs. Many of these youths have lost their lives to the wildlife they protect. Moreover, they are sitting ducks for poachers’ wrath after retirement. It is high time these brave, hardworking, underpaid front-line workers get their rightful dues. 


Multinational NGO's

Lastly, the authorities and the citizens have to be vigilant against the activities of some Multinational NGOs flush with funds from International Donor agencies. These glorified beggars wearing the garb of conservation, jet-set around the world with suave mannerisms and gift of the gab. Unfortunately, they dictate policies to our lawmakers and ignore the socio-economic development of the fringe area people. We need to identify these vigilantes and bar them from interfering with our policies.

Kudos again to the Government for initiating such a step to curb poaching. They need to follow up systematically to address the concerns stated above.

Bhaskar J Barua

An engineer by education, a Project Management Consultant by profession, a wildlife photographer by hobby and a passionate conservationists. Founded Agoratoli Resort and Kaziranga Foundation.