Photo by Avijan Saha

In the heart of the enchanting eastern Himalayas, where lush grasslands and dense forests converge, a charismatic giant roams – the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros. This magnificent creature not only serves as a critical indicator of the health of its habitat but also plays a pivotal role in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem. However, its survival is threatened by a shadowy underworld: the illegal wildlife trade (IWT). This trade, intricately linked to organised crime, transcends borders, involving national and international criminal syndicates operating with ruthless precision. It encompasses arms smuggling, money laundering, cross-border trafficking, and even terrorism, all driven by the insatiable demand for rhino horns and body parts in black markets.

The Dark Side of Rhino Poaching: The demand for rhino horns, primarily from traditional medicine markets in Asia, has fuelled a devastating wave of poaching across rhino range areas in India. Rhino horns are believed to possess medicinal properties and are often used as status symbols. The poaching of rhinos has transformed into a highly lucrative and illicit industry, leading to the rapid decline of rhino populations.

Behind the scenes of rhino poaching, organised crime networks operate with alarming sophistication. National and international gangs work in close coordination, leveraging their vast resources to orchestrate elaborate smuggling operations. These criminal enterprises are not limited to wildlife alone; they often branch into arms smuggling, money laundering, and even links to terrorism, further destabilising regions.

Photo by Avijan Saha

Government and Conservation Efforts: In the face of this grave crisis, the government of Assam, in collaboration with the forest department, has mounted a heroic defence of its rhino population. Over the years, their tireless efforts and innovative strategies have succeeded in minimising rhino poaching, culminating in an astounding achievement—zero poaching in the year 2022. This remarkable turnaround offers hope for the survival of these majestic creatures.

Today, there are approximately 4,018 Indian rhinos in the wilderness of India and Nepal. A significant portion of this population resides in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park (KNP), with a staggering 2,613 individuals, as reported in an estimation conducted in March 2022. Additionally, more than 250 rhinos thrive in other parks such as Orang, Pobitora, and Manas.

In the ongoing battle against rhino poaching, Aaranyak’s initiative D.E.T.E.R.S.© (Disrupt and End Trade of Endangered and Rare Species) helps in necessary capacity building, workshops, meetings, collaborations, and liaisons with various sectors like the judiciary, enforcement agencies, border security agencies, forest departments, and transportation agencies. The initiative also opens dialogues between different agencies to fast-track information generation and communication, along with encouraging quick actions from enforcement agencies to effectively curb wildlife trade. By alerting law enforcement agencies through actionable intelligence, D.E.T.E.R.S.© is playing a pivotal role in deterring wildlife crime and safeguarding the rhino population in Northeast India.

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India’s rhino crisis vividly illustrates the intertwined nature of conservation, crime, and international networks. Yet, the unwavering efforts of the government of Assam and the forest department, with valuable support from organisations like Aaranyak, highlight that with determination and innovation, we can combat organised crime and secure a brighter future for these magnificent creatures.

India’s rhino story is not just about survival; it serves as a beacon of hope for preserving our planet’s precious biodiversity. It’s worth noting that Aaranyak has supplied vehicles, motorcycles, and other field equipment to assist forest officials in their mission to safeguard the future of Greater One-Horned Rhinos in Assam.

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