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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rhinos charging back

Rhinos charging back

  21/10/2003 12:05 - (SA)

India - India's endangered one-horned rhinos are charging back from the brink of extinction with forest wardens roping in villagers to combat poachers who have been killing the beasts for profit.

The sight of carcasses of two-tonne rhinos littering the Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern Indian state of Assam was common a few years ago, but rangers say the random killings have slowed down.

"Six to seven years back, nobody thought the rhinos would survive till 2003 with 100 animals perishing every year - half of them killed by poachers and the remaining dying of natural deaths," park warden NK Vasu said.

The 430 square-kilometre park is now home to the single largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros.

As per latest figures, more than 1 600 of the world's estimated 2 400 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the wilds of this riverine game park - their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.

Park wardens, however, report a downslide in rhino poaching in the past five years, saying only four were killed last year and one rhino poached so far in 2003 as compared to about 50 slaughtered annually in the early 1990s.

Intelligence network

"Intensive protection mechanisms and a better intelligence network, coupled with support from local villagers living on the periphery of the park, have helped us bring down incidents of poaching," warden Vasu said.

Park officials last month arrested two alleged poachers and said they worked for an international rhino horn trading syndicate.

Bhabesh Das, 35, until recently acted as a guide for poachers in Kaziranga.

"I helped poachers by showing them rhino tracks and got about 1 000 rupees for the service," Das said.

A series of anti-poaching awareness camps held by the park authorities for villagers appear to have paid dividends.

Das says he is a "reformed man". He now drives an open jeep to earn a living by taking wildlife tourists on safaris inside the park.

"Many more like me have now formed vigilante groups to foil attempts by poachers to kill rhinos," Das said.