Assam looks for South African rhino DNA tool

Assam forest department will have a peek into a South African rhino conservation management tool, which will help in successful prosecution of poachers.
The DNA tool christened as RhODIS (Rhino DNA indexing system) helps in providing irrefutable evidence in courts of law and linking crime scenes to suspected criminals leading to successful prosecution.
A three-day workshop organised by the WWF India in collaboration with Assam forest department on Saving Unicorns: International Co-operation for Rhino Conservation is starting here tomorrow and the tool will be demonstrated in the field at Kaziranga.
The tool was first used in a rhino poaching case in 2010 in which a Vietnamese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having rhinoceros horns from poached rhinos in his baggage when he was apprehended at OR Thambo International Airport in South Africa.
Apart from resource persons from South Africa, who will be demonstrating the tool, it will be attended by participants from Nepal, Uttar Pradesh forest and West Bengal forest department as well in addition to forest and police officials from Assam.
Officials said the DNA system has established DNA database for rhino profiles allowing rhino range states privileged access to share the data and information.
Till date, it has over 5,000 rhino samples on its DNA database and has contributed towards over 400 rhino investigative cases in the east and southern African region and has set the pace for new global forensic initiatives and standards that enhance conservation efforts in the fight against global wildlife crimes.
The tool has the potential to link with other databases allowing for greater global information sharing where necessary.
“There has not been much work done in Assam on wildlife forensics and stress is now being given on improving crime investigations,” chief wildlife warden R.P. Agarwalla toldThe Telegraph.
The department has been on the back foot as it has not been able to put a stop to poaching despite its best efforts and civil society organisations have been raising voices in the form of protests. Altogether 16 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga alone this year.
He said rhino convictions were very low in Assam, which could be improved if efforts were made in the right way. “Plans are on to set up a wildlife forensics laboratory on the lines of Gujarat forensic laboratory in Assam too,” he said. An intelligence cell to collect more information about poachers is already operational.
The problem in Assam is that many offenders in rhino cases are out on bail and indulging in poaching again.
“Without conviction, we cannot show our supremacy over poachers. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create some more poachers,” Bibhab Talukdar, chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.
He said to find out the key sponsors or abettors involved in rhino poaching, Kaziranga authorities should immediately collect information from Golaghat, Kaliabor and Biswanath Chariali with regard to persons taking bail for the arrested poachers and start investigation from there.


Is Manas national park slipping into "danger"?

WHC sounds Manas danger alarm

 Manas National Park “seems” to be slipping back into “danger”, three years after it got back the coveted heritage tag.
The warning bells have been sounded by World Heritage Committee, which in a recent report said the park could slip into the danger list if the security and encroachment situation worsened.
“A further deterioration of the security situation, associated with the reported surge in poaching, and concerns regarding encroachment could create the conditions to re-inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the committee said in its draft decision report after going through the state of conservation report of Manas sent by the Centre.
The report will be discussed in the committee’s 38th session to be held at Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25. Officials from the Centre and other agencies will be present in the meeting to put forward their viewpoints.
The main issues afflicting the park are poaching and increasing encroachment. Seven of the rhinos translocated to Manas since 2011, when it had got rid of the danger tag, have fallen prey to poachers.
The committee noted with serious concern the reported poaching of nearly one-third of the rhino population of the park — a reminder of the fragility of its recovering outstanding universal value — and urged the Centre to ensure that forest guards are adequately equipped and trained to protect the property against poachers, that they maintain effective patrolling to secure the recovering population of rhinos and other wildlife and to ensure that the anticipated translocation of eastern swamp deer is carried out effectively.
The committee said Manas had about 100 rhinos at the time of its inscription on the World Heritage List. In 1992, the committee put the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the damage caused to it by militants. By 1997, the number of rhinos was reduced to 39 and by 2001 rhinos had been extirpated from the property. The committee had noted in 2012 that the recovering outstanding universal value of the property was still fragile, given the increase in poaching.
The state government in its state of conservation report sent to the Centre in January this year had spoken of the steps taken by it to control poaching.
The committee has also received reports from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of new encroachment in the Bhuyanpara range, recalling the situation at the time of the property’s inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. It had asked for a reply from the Centre but there has been none yet. Sources said the encroachment at Bhuyanpara has now increased manifold and more than 7 square km is said to be under encroachment.
There is also rampant encroachment in the park’s other range, Panbari, which has an area of 16.3 square km. About 912 people are occupying the area and they refuse to leave despite financial incentives. Besides, there is a potential source of conflict between the Assam forest department and the BTC on power over Manas and its wildlife. Under the memorandum of settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests have been transferred to the BTC but not the wildlife.
Given the multiple conservation issues affecting the property, the committee has requested the Centre to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission to assess the property’s state of conservation, particularly in relation to security, poaching and encroachment, and to assess whether it faces potential danger as defined in the operational guidelines.
It has requested the Centre to submit a detailed report, including an executive summary, to the World Heritage Centre by February 1 next year on the state of conservation of the property, the steps taken to improve the situation and updates of its financial situation for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session next year.
“A lot of efforts have been made to revive Manas since 2005. But poaching of seven rhinos since 2011 is a worrying factor, with five killed last year alone. The primary aim of Manas authorities should be to check further poaching and strengthening of patrol and intelligence gathering along with proper training to frontline staff,” Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak and Asia coordinator of International Rhino Foundation, told The Telegraph.