Old guards, rusty guns hit anti-poaching drive
10 foresters ailing, 22 posts lying vacant in Orang national park, says wildlife board
A STAFF REPORTER
Monday , December 28 , 2009
Guwahati, Dec. 27: Age here is a big bar.
The over-aged forest guards of Orang Rajiv Gandhi National Park, most of whom are older than the oldest living rhino in the national park, are perceived as a major handicap in the anti-poaching activities.
A life span of a rhino is about 35-40 years.
This point has been mentioned in a report prepared by the National Wildlife Board, which was set up to study the cause of increasing rhino poaching and tiger poisoning at the smallest rhino habitat in Assam in recent times.
Sources said of the 57 forest guards at the park at present, 18 have already been declared unfit for service, because of injuries and illness and the average age of the remaining is above 45 years.
In fact, the park authorities have written to Dispur recently to replace the 18 ailing forest guards who are in no condition to take on armed poachers.
The park witnessed the death of six rhinos at the hands of poachers this year. One Royal Bengal tiger has also been poisoned.
The park currently has 65 rhinos.
Stung by the spurt in the poaching at Orang, the Centre has formed a two-member committee to probe into it and invited suggestions to put an end to it.
Sources said it was not only the age factor but shortage of forest guards had also hit the park hard in the anti-poaching drives.
Twenty-two posts of forest guards are lying vacant at present.
The forest department did, however, deploy 68 homeguards in September last year after poachers killed two rhinos and poisoned a tiger the previous month.
The report prepared by the committee also stated that untimely release of funds allotted to the national park was demoralising the employees, which had indirectly let to an increase in poaching activities.
“Homeguards had received their salary after five months in September and the casual workers after eight months. These factors have a demoralising effect on the persons engaged in anti-poaching activities,” the report stated.
While the homeguards help the rangers in anti-poaching drives, the casual workers are mostly engaged in looking after elephants. The elephants are used by the forest guards to patrol inside the park and ferry tourists.
Another factor that was mentioned in the report is that most of the rifles used by the forest guards are old and outdated.
Sources said it was because of this fact that at least four rifles misfired when a group of forest guards engaged in a gun-battle with poachers recently inside the park.
“Although all the five forest guards were armed with .303 rifles and .315 rifles, shots could be fired from only one rifle, the rests were not working,” a highly placed source told The Telegraph today.
At least three poachers escaped.
The park at present has nearly 110 rifles but most of these are old and rusty.