India Monday lost its ninth rhino to poaching so far this year within the northern state of Assam.
The greater-one horned, or Indian rhino, was found shot dead with its horn removed in Kaziranga National Park. Seven other rhinos have already been killed in the park during 2013, and an additional rhino was poached last month in Manas National Park.
Officials are concerned about the increasing use of sophisticated weapons by poachers. Many of the Assam’s rhinos have been gunned down by Kalashnikov rifles. The state has approximately 2,500 rhinos remaining after losing 21 to poachers last year.
The use of high-powered weapons enables poachers to kill the rhinos quickly, cut off their horns and flee before the forest guards can get to the scene.
The proximity of Assam to India’s porous international borders with neighbours such as Bangladesh and Myanmar is believed to contribute to availability of arms and also enables poaching gangs access international criminal syndicates engaging in wildlife smuggling.
The primary destination for rhino horns is Viet Nam, where new medical and social uses have emerged in recent years. According to a recent TRAFFIC report, consumers in Viet Nam are willing to pay extremely high prices for medicines made with rhino horn in the mistaken belief that it can cure a number of diseases.
Rising illicit demand for rhino horn has pushed poaching of African rhinos to crisis levels. Poaching statistics released recently by the South African government reveal that a record 668 rhinos were killed across the country in 2012, an increase of nearly 50 per cent from the 448 rhinos lost to poachers in 2011.
After decades of conservation success, which resulted in the population of rhinos in Assam rising to around 2,500 currently, the spike in poaching indicates that criminal networks are strengthening in the state.
To avoid loss of these hard-fought gains it is imperative that urgent steps are taken by the government of Assam to reduce these threats.
As wildlife crime increasingly involves organized networks, better co-ordination among the different enforcement agencies is needed to tackle them. WWF-India believes that intelligence networks need to be strengthened and a dedicated law enforcement agency established.
WWF is currently running an international campaign against illegal wildlife trade to put pressure on governments to protect animals from poaching and to prevent illegal trade across borders.
The campaign’s other objective is to educate consumers about how they can take steps to stop fuelling the illegal demand for wildlife products worldwide.