Guwahati, Jan 9: The government of Assam would not have been in a position to flaunt it achievement of zero-rhino poaching in the year 2022, but for the cooperation from all stakeholders in a sustained manner with the teams of wildlife personnel as well as those from the Rhino Protection Task Force formed by Assam government.
One of such key stakeholders in the sustained process of rhino conservation has been Aaranyak (www.aaranyak.org), a premier research-based biodiversity conservation organisation, which has rejoiced the achievement of Assam government as it has reflected too on its years-long efforts to complement rhino conservation and protection in Assam.
Aaranyak has lauded the Assam Government for ensuring not a rhino was shot in protected areas of the state in the year 2022 given that wildlife poaching undermines the conservation actions to safeguard threatened species. It has also pledges to continue with its unrelenting efforts to complement rhino conservation efforts with renewed vigour.
The Greater one-horned rhinoceros, which is listed as Vulnerable species as per IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, is a lucrative target for illegal wildlife trade.
Aaranyak has flagged that northeast India is one of the transit routes for illegal wildlife products that heads to consumer countries in South and Southeast Asia hence has been mooting synergy and cooperation in the action in the ground to protect wildlife.
With this spirit, Aaranyak has been working in tandem through a multi-pronged approach ranging from conducting research, outreach, capacity building and reversing habitat degradation to complement and support the efforts of Assam Government to secure the future of Greater One Horned Rhino in Assam.
Aaranyak’s wildlife genetics laboratory has pioneered rhino conservation genetic research in India through understanding of spatial and temporal aspects of genetic diversity of the species and has developed genetic census methods using DNA fingerprinting of dung samples. This led to crucial management recommendations for conservation planning of rhinos in its natural habitat.
Aaranyak has been providing DNA forensic analysis support to Assam Forest Department since 2014. It has played a vital role by undertaking genetic sampling of more than 2500 rhino horns which were in government repositories to verify its genuineness as part of reconciliation and burning of the horns by Assam government in 2021.
Aaranyak has played a key role in rhino bearing areas in Assam to combat poaching through deployment of trained K9 unit since 2012 to help the forest officials carry out investigation in the scene of crime (poaching) aptly to identify poacher’s exit routes.
The trained sniffer dogs of Belgian Malinois breed of K9 unit are globally known to be efficient in dealing with crimes investigation. The initiation of K9 unit engaging Belgian Malinois breed is the country’s first such initiative to assist rhino bearing areas to check poaching, and has been highly result oriented. With six dogs and their handlers stationed at different rhino-bearing areas in Assam, Aaranyak has been are boosting the continued efforts of the forest officials to track down the offenders.
Another flagship initiative of Aaranyak in mitigating wildlife crime with particular focus on rhinos is conducting sensitisation workshops for different law enforcement agencies such as the Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB), Border Security Force (BSF), Police officials, Judiciary, transport agencies like Railways and airport/airline authorities, media agencies, educational institutions, and local communities.
“We have complemented efforts of Government agencies and supported them with surveillance vehicles and field kits around rhino-bearing areas to combat illegal killing of rhinos,” Aaranyak has stated.
In order to inculcate the conservation ethos into younger minds, Aaranyak has been successfully conducting awareness drives with two serial programmes- “Rhino Goes to School” and “Friends of Rhinos”, which are targeted towards students of the fringes of rhino-bearing areas.
Aaranyak pledged to work relentlessly and adopt new tools to support relevant Government agencies through institutional capacity building, strengthening prosecution knowhow by working with State Legal Services Authorities in Assam and adjoining states in North East India, enhancing participation of local communities and conducting research that aids in long-term conservation of threatened species like rhinos.