Kaziranga National Park is a World Heritage Site located in India in the state of Assam. It is home to several dozens of species of animals, including tigers, elephants and rhinos. You are welcome to visit the park, but only if you have good intentions. If you don’t, you might end up with a bullet in your head.
2. The Park Is Serious About Protecting Its Rhinos
Rhinos are in desperate need of protection, but the park has a contentious way of dealing with potential poachers. They will literally shoot them on sight. In the years 2014 and 2015, the park had a surge in poacher deaths. In 2015, more people were killed at the park than rhinos were.
The government gave the guards at the park an unbelievable amount of power to carry out these executions of poachers. The guards can kill a person with total impunity and without fear of repercussion.
This is in part due to the fact that tourism to Kaziranga has been on the rise, with 170,000 annual visitors. In 2013, when a total of 27 rhinos were killed in the park, the government felt pressure to make a serious change.
However, innocent locals are unfairly getting caught up in the park’s war against poaching. The man in the photo above is Kachu Kealing. He told the BBC that his son, who had severe learning difficulties, wandered into the park at night trying to find the family’s lost cow. He ended up losing his life.
Another young boy, Akash Orang, had his calf blown off by a gunshot wound. The park ended up paying for his medical expenses, but the boy can still barely walk.
Despite the threat on their lives, people continue poaching. That is because the rhino horn is extremely valuable. It can cost up to $6,000 for 100 grams. There has also been a recent price surge and demand for rhino horn in countries like Vietnam and China.
Rhino horn is thought to cure a myriad of illnesses. Medicine is made out of ground rhino horn and marketed as a cure-all from everything to erectile dysfunction to cancer. Rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for over 1,800 years. The reason why there is an increase in demand for it in Vietnam could be linked to a rumor that a politician had his cancer cured by the rhino horn powder in the mid-2000s.
There are a total of five different rhino species. The ones that people are more familiar with are the two species native to Africa, the white rhino and the black rhino. But Asia has three species, the Javan rhino, the Sumatran rhino and the Indian rhino. The Indian rhino only has one horn, compared to its African cousins, who have two. But, on the rhino horn market, the Indian rhino horn is considered more potent.
While the number of Indian rhinos who were poached for their horn has decreased, the number of African rhinos killed each year is in the thousands. Since 2008, nearly 6,000 African rhinos have been illegally slaughtered for their horn.
Dehorning rhinos has been a controversial “solution” to the rhino poaching problem. Theoretically, without the horn the animal would be useless to the poacher. Namibia was the first country to implement dehorning in the '90s. However, the procedure didn’t prove to be successful. Poachers still killed a lot of rhinos out of spite, or because they simply didn’t see they were dehorned. Assam considered passing a dehorning resolution, but ultimately decided against it.
To help monitor the park, Kaziranga uses drones. They have been using drones since 2013, but there are no reports showing that the drones have been successful in catching any poachers. But there has been an increase in poachers killed in the park since the drones have been used (2014, 2015).
Yes, it is important to conserve the rhinos, as well as other endangered species in the world. But the way Kaziranga goes about it raises many flags. The “license to kill” the guards are given are negatively affecting the tribal people who live in close proximity to the park. It creates hatred between the locals and the guards in charge, who could be taking advantage of their position of power.