Kaziranga National Park in India is one of the world’s most important wildlife sanctuaries, hosting two-thirds of the planet’s Indian rhinoceroses—a prime target for poaching and habitat destruction. It’s not surprising that the UNESCO World Heritage Site is heavily guarded, but Kaziranga rangers take things a step further, shooting trespassers on sight. That may seem extreme, but the results are undeniable.
The Indian rhinoceros is an extremely desirable target for poachers. Just 1 kilogram of rhino horn is between $60,000 and $300,000, and demand has never been higher. Fortunately, this sanctuary is one of the most high-tech on the planet, featuring a militarized ranger force armed with surveillance drones, wire traps, motion sensors, and top of the line weaponry.
Some poachers have been willing to risk it all; more than 20 poachers were killed by rangers in 2015 alone. BBC’s investigation into the matter revealed that rangers could have been acting beyond the law in some of the instances and some of the killings were possibly unnecessary. But the data supports the fact that the more poachers are killed, the fewer rhinos are poached.
So should there be more oversight on the park? In an interview with BBC News, the park director commented that rangers have instructions to try and arrest the poachers before pulling the trigger. It is unknown whether these instructions are closely followed, but rumors in the village tell a gruesome story of innocent bystanders walking through the area being killed by trigger-happy guards. This aligns with a wider trend of the use of violence to defend the world’s protected areas.
“Crimes against man, an animal which is found in great abundance and one who is largely responsible for destroying nature and ecosystems, must take a back seat when a crime against mother nature is on the examination table,” a report from the regional government on the facility reads. “These crimes are far more heinous than murder.”
The government cites the growing power and sophistication of the crime syndicates in the illegal wildlife trade as justification for the “war” against poaching. Still, experts are concerned that militarization is not subject to judicial scrutiny. A recent BBC story outlined the growing conflict in Kaziranga between the interests and rights of local and indigenous people and the need to protect the threatened species. Groups like Survival International argues that these conservation projects have “denied and undermined the rights of indigenous groups around the world.”
Furthermore, plans are in place to double the size of Kaziranga—meaning that villagers will continue being displaced with little due process. There are several documented cases of violence and even death. This so-called “green grab” is successful in meeting environmental objectives, but results in the dispossession of some of our planet’s most vulnerable people.
Source: The Independent, IFL Science