India: War on Poaching intensifies.
Since early May 2012 the Indian State, Maharashtra government provided all of its rangers a shoot to kill licence directly aimed at “poachers” regardless of age, sex or religion. The shoot to kill order was given of which rangers are immune from prosecution due to high levels of Rhino, Tiger, Lion and, Elephant poaching within the country.
When International Animal Rescue Foundation India became aware of Maharashtra government’s demands they watched and waited for results of which back then were little however, since 2013 rangers have been actively involved in over one hundred and forty nine legal killings with a further eleven so far to date (13th June 2015). The number is believed to be a lot higher. Furthermore as poaching is not just confined to “animals” but also the sacred sandalwood, forestry rangers have been actively engaging sandalwood poachers and smugglers too.
April 4th 2015 forestry rangers and Police came under heavy gunfire in two separate locations within Tamil Nadu, Chittoor. Police and forestry guards tried to apprehend some twenty sandalwood poachers/smugglers of which took off into the sandalwood forests in Andhra Pradesh. The first shoot out saw some saw some nine smugglers shot dead in one area of the sandalwood forest that is unknown to us while a second saw a further eleven smugglers shot dead in what was described as a “heavy exchange” of bullets from both sides within Chittoor in Southern Andhra Pradesh. While some people have stated this action unjust we please ask you to continue to reading (to the bottom) for you to fully understand why the Police and forestry services may have took such action.
2015 has been quite a busy year thus far for forestry rangers and Police. At the start of the year, 15th January 2015 three Rhino poachers that were directly ordered to lay down their weapons aimed them at forestry guards opening fire. The incident that took place in the Kaziranga National Park, in the remote state of Assam prompted forestry guards to act quickly and professionally to preserve the sacred One Horned Rhino of which they shot the three poachers dead instantly. Fortunately no forestry guards or the Rhino were injured this time.
March 2015 a further three ivory poachers that were caught red handed slaughtering an Indian Rhino of which the Indian Rhino lost its life and was left in a pitiful state were shot dead immediately. We’ve included the image of that Rhino below for your information and to grasp why we and India have now had enough of this slaughter and will take the relevant steps required to support our men and women to secure our fauna and flora.
Image: Rhino killed by ivory poachers - poachers shot dead on site.
While poaching continues so does “hunting the poachers too” and so it rightfully should. International Animal Rescue Foundation India supported by its sister Africans Environmental company, began paying five “unnamed” forestry units within the shoot to kill zones larger cash incentives to hunt and take down any mammal or sandalwood poachers. The organisation has come under some fierce criticism from mainly European and American citizens most of which are devout church goers or, believe poverty is the first step that needs to be dealt with.
International Animal Rescue Foundation’s Indian Chief Executive Officer Vasvi Kanal stated “On consulting the Chief Environmental Officer back in 2012 when we were made aware of Maharashtra’s stance we knew we had to do something to support our brave men and women. After a meeting in New Delhi that following summer it was decided we should support the shoot to kill policy to send a a direct message out to poachers that you’ll no longer simply walk into our forests and parks and take what’s not rightfully yours”. Kanal went onto state “The shoot to kill policy had to be endorsed one way or the other and, I thank the Chief Environmental Officer Dr Jose Depre for wiring the funds directly to us that are now placed into the hands of these brave men and women to seek and kill poachers”.
Image: Indian Rhino poacher shot dead on site.
Since the policy was enacted in 2012 in Maharashtra some seven states within India have since followed suite of Maharashtra’s firm stance and, since 2014 we’ve seen a staggering increase of poachers that have been caught trying to kill Rhino, Elephant, Tiger or illegally harvesting sandalwood shot dead on site. Furthermore many Indian press agencies have picked up the organisations support creating debate and stories on the subject that has encouraged more and more female and male citizens to come on board to protect and preserve our natural habitat and sacred heritage.
Soon after Maharashtra’s stance on “all animal and habitat poaching/destruction” took on a new positive twist, Nepal back in 2013 set their Anti Poaching Units into action - to hunt the - hunters. About 10 years ago, when the country was deeply mired in a civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels, there was hardly any focus on wildlife protection in one of Nepal’s most famous parks
The number of army monitoring posts in and around the park was reduced from 30 to seven as soldiers were shifted to anti-insurgency operations. In 2002, about 37 Rhinos were killed by poachers, triggering grave concern over the future of One-Horned Rhinos. Their numbers dropped from an estimated 612 in 2000 to less than 375 in 2005.
“According to our last rhino census in 2011 the number of Rhinos in the park has risen to more than 500,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, a senior official at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
As the chief of the Anti-Poaching Operation from 2003 to 2007, Mr Kunwar played a key role in the conservation of Rhinos in Chitwan National Park. Spread over an area of more than 930 sq km, the park consists mostly of Sal trees and grasslands. Its flat lowlands are home to a variety of endangered animals like Royal Bengal Tigers, Rhinos, Leopards and Gharial Crocodiles. Crucial re-deployment: The successful conservation effort is attributed to a variety of initiatives, including tough action against poachers, enhanced intelligence and involving villagers living around the park in conservation efforts.
Image: Rhino poacher shot dead.
Meanwhile, while India strides forwards in its tough Anti Poaching operations poachers are still targeting rangers and police leaving their seriously injured on in many cases themselves killed. Deaths continue on both sides and rarely do the press and media overseas bother to print on the bravery of these men and women or, their tragic deaths.
Back in January 2014 poachers killed a female Rhino and a home guard at the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, that Wednesday. Park officials said the home guard, Sushil, was killed during a gun battle with the poachers, who also managed to chop off the Rhino’s horn.
Rifles and ammunition were recovered from the spot. This is the second case of poaching at Orang which has about 100 Rhinos. The last Rhino was killed earlier in December, following which the park authorities announced a cash reward of Rs 50,000 for information on poacher Md Joynaluddin alias Junu. The authorities have also pasted Joynaluddin’s posters at several places in Darrang, Sonitpur, and Morigaon districts.
Back in 2014 a survey was undertaken on the number of rangers that are sadly murdered by poachers and killed by wild animals within the country according to the IBT. The results were shocking of which encouraged International Animal Rescue Foundation India to push more funding into local forestry units around Assam and the Ministry that supports guards financially. India loses more forest/Anti Poaching Guards than any other country on the planet.
Most of the Indian forest security men and women have been killed by poachers and wild animals, states the survey by non-profit organisation International Ranger Federation (IRF). In the past three years, as many as 72 forest rangers died in India, whereas in other countries in Asia, Africa and America, only less than 10 deaths of forest rangers have been reported, The Times of India reported, quoting the survey by IRF which strives to create awareness about forest rangers and security men.
It can be recalled that smugglers of red sanders killed several forest rangers in AP’s Tirumala forests in recent years. Notorious bandit Veerappan has also killed several forest officers and security men till a decade ago. The survey further stated that about 60 percent of the forest rangers’ killings, in the last three years, happened in Asia.
“We are extremely concerned that rangers continue to face high levels of violence and are being murdered at an alarming pace,” said IRF president Sean Willmore.
India lost 24 forest rangers in 2014, 14 in 2013 and 34 in 2012. India tops the list in the deaths of forest rangers during all three years. The report went onto state - That most rangers were killed by wild animals and poachers. Apart from animals and poachers, diseases such as dengue and malaria, forest fires and road accidents have also claimed the lives of rangers, the survey added.
In India, smugglers of wild animals and forest wealth like red sanders do not hesitate to kill rangers, if they are obstructed from committing the crime. In Seshachalam forest of Andhra Pradesh, about 200 smugglers attacked forest rangers and killed two officers in December 2013. The 200 smugglers first rained stones on the ranger sand then attacked them with batons. Rangers in India are often seen unarmed, making them vulnerable to the smugglers’ attacks.
The government of India has been dealing with wildlife poachers with an iron fist in the past one year with 30 poachers being gunned down in the Northeast alone. The number that figured in the data released by the environment ministry is the highest ever in the country. Most of the killings took place in the Kaziranga National Park, Assam. The KNP, Assam is the largest known “active poaching area” hence the largest amount of hits and is custodian to over 1000 endangered Indian one Horned Rhinos.
“The number shows our determination to eliminate wildlife traffickers and poachers. It is a big achievement of the Modi government,” environment minister Prakash Javadekar said recently.
Highly sophisticated arms were recovered from the poachers who killed Rhinos for horns smuggled to South-East Asia through porous Myanmar. Hunting down of poachers in Kharbi Anglong of Assam was undertaken by the Congress-led Assam government to save single-horn rhinos of Kaziranga and nearby areas.
Big cats at huge risk:
Wildlife in other parts of the country isn’t as lucky as the Rhinos. As many as 23 Tigers and 116 Leopards were poached in 2014 across India, with states like Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh reporting a large number of cases.
“These are the cases that have been reported. There might have been cases where the poachers took the whole animal, without leaving a trace,” said Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Traffic, a non-government group monitoring wildlife trade, says that there has been no let down in illegal wildlife trade in India. It says the Northeast is turning into a hub of wildlife smuggling.
A report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority also indicates weak wildlife crime management in the country. It states that almost 40% of the forest guards do not have enough equipment to deal with highly organised wildlife crimes. “The states are not providing funds to modernize wildlife crime management,” a senior official said.
Despite some public criticism calling the organisation “dogs” and “disgusting” India’s tough stance on Anti Poaching must continue. International Animal Rescue Foundation India hopes to push a further $15,500 into the cash incentive jar to help equip rangers, police and forest guards. Furthermore the environmental company that has some one people working on the ground in New Delhi will be working with local communities in poverty stricken zones where poachers are known to originate from to help decrease poaching, improve poverty and hopefully decrease killing on both sides.
Lastly I wish to leave you with this video directed at those that believe Indian forestry guards and Anti Poaching Units are randomly picking off innocent people. Please watch the video to the end and undertake your own Google search on those brave men that sadly lost their lives fighting for animal and environmental freedom.
Thank you for reading.
Johan La Roux
Rhino Welfare Project Africa.