By Sushmita Dey
Kaziranga National Park is home to two-thirds of the world’s great One-horned rhinoceros. Rhino census is conducted every three years, with the latest census carried out was in 2015. Before that, there was a census in 2012. A special census was also conducted in 2013 as well. According to the 2015 census, 2,401 is the exact number of rhinos in Kaziranga. The whole process of rhino census or so to say animal census is very tough. The whole area has to be divided into compartments for error free outcomes. The manpower also has to be divided into two teams. The survey is done block wise riding on elephants’ back and the whole process has to be completed within three to four hours to avoid multiple counting of a single rhino.
Kaziranga also boasted the highest density of tigers among the protected areas in the world and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. But according to a recent study, Assam’s Orang National Park may replace Kaziranga as park with highest tiger density. Orang, being one of the smallest national parks in India, is poised to emerge as the reserve with the highest tiger density in the country. Though sighting of tigers are difficult because of the tall grasses that provide amazing camouflage, their existence can be felt when people come across pug marks. Not only this, the park is a home to large breeding of elephants, wild water buffaloes and swamp deer population. More than 35000 deers are there, out of which 1148 are Eastern swamp deers. Apart from these, 5000 wild pigs and an approximate of 1400 buffaloes are there in this heritage site. Unlike rhino census, which is done after every three years, tiger census is conducted after every four years. The last tiger census was conducted in 2014. There is also an All India Tiger census all over the country for regular figure monitoring. In Assam, there are four tiger reserves i.e. Kaziranga, Manas, Nameri and Orang Tiger Reserve.
There are two different methods involved in the counting of tigers, one of which is the Camera trap method. It is a fully computerised method which involves the use of a sensor and photographs of passing animals are clicked automatically. Two cameras are fitted in an area of four sq. kilometres. To avoid the situation of insufficient space in the memory cards, the cameras are turned off during the daytime and turned on at night because the cameras, as per information, are so sensitive that sometimes they even click sensing a slight wind. More than 200 cameras are placed at different locations which are frequented by tigers. After 10 days, memory cards are being taken out from the cameras and the counting starts. Like every human fingerprint, stripes on the body of tigers also vary from one tiger to another. That is why, the photographs are sorted based on the stripes on tigers’ body to avoid double counting. There is another method which uses software, according to which, a total of 111 tigers have been detected. If we notice the statistics, the numbers of tigers are increasing gradually since the last fall a few years ago. At present, a total of 177 tigers are there in Assam, of which Orang has 28.
There has also been circumstances when conflict arises between man and tiger. A year back, a big cat was found in Dolabari in Sonitpur District. Director Dr Satyendra Singh said “A Royal Bengal tiger lives in his own territory but a Leopard loves roaming around village areas where there are more chances of cows and goats to be found.”
There are about 1089 elephants in kaziranga, of which the forest department has 23 captive elephants. These elephants are used for various purposes including patrolling inside the reserve, animal safari etc. There are 30 private elephants as well which are allowed within Bagori range only. These elephants serve as a source of livelihood for the local people who charge a sum of Rs 900 for animal safari of which Rs 400 goes to the government fund.
In an exclusive interview with the Director of Kaziranga National Park, when asked how floods cause a threat to the rhinos during monsoons, Dr Satyendra Singh said “Flood is necessary for Rhinos. Had not been floods necessary for them, why would they have been living here in Kaziranga for so many years Flood comes every year. Why do they prefer living here even after knowing that flood may come again?”
Kaziranga National Park has a manpower of 535, which are sanctioned posts by the government. An additional 1200 staffs are inducted for the anti poaching drive. There are a total of 178 anti poaching camps where staffs work day and night to keep a strict eye on poachers.
The statistics of rhino poaching too has fallen to some extent as compared to the 80s and 90s. During the period of 1980-90, 48 rhinos fell prey to poaching. In 2013, 27 rhinos were poached and in 2014 too, 27 rhinos were killed. In 2015 and 2016, it slightly decreased to 17 and 18 respectively.
Now that the technique of poaching has changed to Gunshot, poisoned arrow etc, according to Dr Singh, illegal arms need to be stopped. Singh also added that maintaining a good relation with the local community is extremely important for keeping an eye on any suspicious movement in the area. “Rhino poaching is a very simple task for the poachers. It takes barely 10 minutes to cut the horn once it is shot dead. Surprisingly, it costs approximately 40 lakhs rupees per kg. Every year more than hundred rhinos dies natural death too” adds Singh. He also informed that the department has about 2000 rhino horns in their treasury, which have been removed after the death of the animal. Though they are thinking of burning them, they step backward thinking that they might be alleged to have sold the real horns and are burning bogus ones. There was once an inspection of these horns which was telecasted live by media houses. The government is however planning to destroy the horns.
“The burning of rhino horns could have been a grand ceremony where the whole world could have witnessed that the Forest Department of Assam doesn’t care for money. They can burn millions of rupees into ashes for the protection of their wildlife” Singh said.
Dr Singh also informed our team that the forest department is planning for protection through E surveillance. In this method, 80 feet high towers shall be constructed mounted with cameras. Presently, eight such towers have already been placed with optical camera for daytime and thermal camera for night. Through this system, live video of animal movements can be monitored directly from the control room. The department was also planning to have sensor barriers, however, the cost of sensor barriers is way too high which compelled them to induce more man power as it serves the livelihood of the local youth.