Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India is home to two-thirds of the world’s Indian rhinoceroses. When the park was started about 100 years ago, only a few of the species remained. Now there are more than 2400 at the park, despite a black market value of between $60,000 and $300,000 for just one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rhino horn.
While the park—and the rhinos living there—are flourishing, it comes at a high price.
Rangers at Kaziranga are licensed to shoot on sight, a power they were given in 2013 after the number of rhinos killed by poachers in the park that year more than doubled to 27. The then-head of the park, MK Yadava, wrote a report proposing that anyone found in the park “must obey or be killed.”
Since then, the number of people killed rose dramatically. In 2013, five poachers were killed. In 2014 and 2015, over 20 people were shot and killed each year by park rangers. In comparison, in 2015, 17 rhinos were killed. The number of people killed is likely low. “We don’t keep each and every account,” said a senior official in India’s Forest Department, which oversees India’s national parks.
In a new BBC documentary, the practice is discussed: “The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” said one of the rangers, identified as Avdesh. He continued that they are “[f]ully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”
Critics say that not just poachers are being killed, but also native tribal groups that live in the area. Many tribal communities live alongside the park, and collect firewood, herbs and other plants from it. They say that, increasingly, innocent villagers are being shot.