RHINO POACHERS - THE NEW AVATAR
For the last couple of months, the Kaziranga National Park authorities have successfully cracked down on various rhino poaching rackets. They have done a stellar job by capturing quite a few rhino poachers and their associates. These are welcome developments and re-establishes the strong and successful conservation credentials of Kaziranga. However, the authorities have also uncovered some startling facts in the process -the evolution of forest guards to rhino poachers. This has laid to rest the long-held suspicion that a few insiders are involved in rhino poaching.
What led to the evolution of Forest Guards as Rhino Poachers?
The answer lies in the continued apathy of the authorities towards empowering the local community. Coupled with the historical exploitation and unabated corruption and nepotism in employments, our own people have turned against us. I have dealt on these issues in one of my earlier writings “Empowerment for rhino conservation: are we in the right direction?”
In the pretext of engaging the local community, the authorities appoint local youths as Fixed-Pay employees. These youths spend the most productive period of their lives in safeguarding the rhino, hoping that the authorities would recognise their services and sacrifices, and would regularise their jobs. Untrained, underpaid and over-worked, these foot soldiers’ work in a very hostile environment. Their lives are in constant danger from the poachers and the animals they protect. Their sole motivation is a permanent job – with perks like better pay and retirement benefits. By the time these youths cross over to middle age, their dreams fade away and desperation creeps in. They meet new faces- people from other parts of the state, with no knowledge and love for Kaziranga, come to join them as permanent employees, and lord over them. They see penury and hunger engulfing the families of their colleagues who fell to the poacher’s bullets or gored by wild animals. They look ahead and see nothing but a bleak future for their families.
The bureaucracy, fed by huge taxpayer’s money, is living in a fool’s paradise to expect that this status quo will continue forever. And the result is glaringly visible – the original custodians of Kaziranga – whose forefathers have sacrificed to save the rhino, have no option but to lick their wounds in silence. The inevitable fallout- the mistrust of the locals towards any conservation initiatives of the authorities is gaining ground. Things have come to such a pass that even forest staffs, though temporary, have sided with the poachers. Their frustration at being neglected for so long has manifested itself through the recent revelations.
We need to act fast before a volcanic eruption of anguish engulfs the entire Kaziranga landscape.