Republica Files File photo of a dead one-horned rhino spotted in 2014 at the Chitwan National Park.
CHITWAN, April 9: Even though Nepal has celebrated successful zero poaching years many times in the past, the recent tragic incident of spotting the dead body of a rhino has once again raised questions about the government’s conservation efforts. The rhino’s dead body was found on Saturday morning with its horn missing at a community forest in Kasara area, a part of the buffer zone. And this happened in an area that has been pitted as very secure by the Chitwan National Park (CNP) officials.
Both, killing rhino and trading its horn, are criminal offences. If found guilty of killing rhino and trading its horn bears a penalty between Rs 50,000 to 100,000 or a prison term of one to 15 years or both. However, because of its high demand in the international market, smugglers and poachers have always challenged security arrangements and managed to poach them.
Concerned officials say that existing laws have not been able to discourage poachers. Existing security arrangement has not able to provide hundred percent security to this endangered species. Pointing to this caveat, they opine existing security arrangements need to be upgraded and laws made even sterner to punish the convicted poachers.
“The rhino was killed in an area where security is considered to be very tight. This means, existing security arrangement is not enough. There are lapses which need to be figured out and fixed,” said Madhukar Malla, president of Buffer Zone Management Committee of CNP. He informed Republica that in the recent years many security posts have been added across the national park area.
Only 25 days were left for the national park to celebrate three consecutive rhino poaching-free years. Entire CNP team is lamenting the loss. “Those who were working their heart out day and night to save rhino and were being successful to do so since the past two years have been badly hurt. All are mourning the death. It’s really a very sad incident,” noted Malla
Like Malla narrated, the park was making preparations to celebrate third year of zero poaching. However, just like in the past, it has remained a challenge to completely keep the poachers at the bay. “We had to face this while we were making grand preparations to celebrate third consecutive zero poaching year,” Malla said.
The killing was a serious setback to the park’s ‘operation maha hunt’ - a special security operation launched two months ago to ensure safety of rhinos and keeping it a rhino poaching-free year. Over thousand security personals were monitoring poaching-prone areas. Under the operation, 200 more army personal had been deployed.
“In addition to the existing five security posts manned by Nepal Army, two more were added as part of the operation,” informed Ram Chandra Kandel, chief conservation officer at the park. “There was a security post guarded by the army near the place where the tragic incident happened,” he added. In addition to security posts and security forces, in the recent years CNP has also adopted technology to monitor and protect endangered species like the rhino. “Yet, we failed to keep poachers away,” Kandel lamented.
All the sensitive zones inside the park, buffer zones and nearby forests are monitored by CCTV cameras round the clock. CNP has trained dogs for dealing with poachers. However, park officials say that the death has pointed that the security mechanism was insufficient.
Considering the sensitivity of the issue, Central Bureau of Investigation has started investigating the case. Every time a rhino is found killed, high profile investigations are launched. However, investigating authorities have not been fully successful in booking culprits. Nabbing the smugglers is always challenging as poachers do not supply the linking information.
“Even this time, it seems that the rhino was shot from very close distance. This must be someone very friendly with this area. Others can hardly do this. Those who were earlier held but later freed might have done it,” said Kamal Jung Kuwar, a rhino conservationist. “Those who are into the habit of poaching are unlikely to give it up. They can go to any length for poaching a rhino and trade its horn,” he added.
“In India, security forces are allowed to shoot poachers if sighted. Yet, India has not been able to control poaching. Even here, we have deployed range of security measures but are still unable to discourage the criminals,” Kunwar stated. “We must now concentrate not only on beefing up our security mechanism but also on slapping stringent punishment to anyone found guilty of poaching. They should not be freed,” he added.