Can ‘Drones’ be able to curb the menace of poaching before the Assembly polls?

Can ‘Drones’ be able to curb the menace of poaching before the Assembly polls?

With the 2016 elections just around the corner, under the very noses of the high powered horses ready to battle in Assam, yet another shady underworld business operates. The baffling question remains – what have the elections to do with rhinos?

Fighting for space

Kaziranga National Park (KNP), a sanctuary which everyyoungster in the Northeast India would dream toat least once visit, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1985. The park, which is at the edge of the Eastern Himalayan range is a biodiversity hotspot.

The land of Kaziranga is made fertile with the alluvial soil formed by the erosion and the silt deposition of Brahmaputra River to make it more eligible for agriculture on the outskirts of the park area. On the other side the Brahmaputra is a tussle between India and China, maybe to leverage political spaces within the context of geopolitics.In 2015, China operationalized its first hydropower dam on the Brahmaputra River, known locally as YarlungTsangpo and by 2016 five other sections of the dam are expected to be complete. The game between politicians and poachers would trigger regional turf wars if the bet is won by our neighbour.

Elections in Assam is already in warm waters given the Prime Minister recently travelled to inaugurate a gas cracker project which was under the rubble for 32 years in the probably belief that reviving it would bring cheer to many hearts and cut a deal with the Bodos on similar lines as the Indo-Naga Peace Accord which was signed between the NSCN (IM) and Union Government.

Why poaching?

In some parts of the world poaching is a lucrative business and government channels are often hand-in-glove to make it profitable. Kaziranga National Park is no different when it comes to hunting down targets in an illegal manner for commercial gains. According to the Hindustan Times(Assam: Rhino numbers rise, but rampant poaching continues) a rhino horn fetches around $1,00,000 a kilo (Rs 62.50 lakh a kilo) and there are indications of alarming trade-offs: militant groups supplying sophisticated arms to poachers in return for cuts from the lucrative illegal trade to finance extremist activities.

Power is in the hands of the few and mighty, not the animals, when it comes to intervening of nature for benefitting oneself. Trafficking the rhino horn will be the 'bone of contention' as it attracts $1,00,000per kilo in the black market, allegations on the nexus between conmen and bureaucracy remains a debatable issue as there have been instances of under the table dealingsinvolving forest guards in the wildlife habitats in Assam. Luring the forest guards is easy because of their meagre salary as compared to the promise of big profits.

Is there a viable solution for this criminalisation of animals in corridors of Northeast? Who to be blamed?

Drones: The problem solver

Rhino census in 2013 for KNP put a number at 2,329. The global figure for one-horned rhinoceros population stands at 3,300. In curbing the statistics to fly off the radar, the solution which comes in mind is 'DRONES'. The eye in the sky, technology would hold a grip to a certain extent during night hunting. Private companies dealing with drones are floating around in India looking for lucrative buyers. The police and the army are currently using state-of-the-art drones. Why not drones for anti-poaching?

17 rhinos were killed in the 184-square-mile park in eastern Assam in 2015 alone. Before the species is declared extinct, is it not high time the government and private players join hands to defeat this menace of poaching? Africa saw the light of day when a group called Air Shepherd in Africa provided new technologies such as computer controlled drones. In India, ten places have already been identified for implementation of drones including the high-altitude Himalayas, Himalayan foothills, central India, coastal regions of Sundarbans, islands of Andaman, etc.

However, it is not up to technology but to committed governance and tight-knit bureaucracy that can streamline projects before any five year election campaign or workshop. The top politicians of Assam can do more to protect the sanctuary and regional outbreak of territories. The people of Assam need to re-consider priorities before they vote – understand the deep, dark connections that poaching has to terrorism, understand the gravity of the turf war with China, insist on solutions like technology and speak up and vote for remaining 2,329 rhinos!

(By Christopher Gatphoh)

Featured Image: Brett Greenaway

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