The Kaziranga National Park in India has a surprising policy – they shoot poachers on sight to protect their endangered wildlife.
Guards at the wildlife conservation park have permission from the Indian government to shoot and kill any and all suspected poachers without worrying about the legal consequences.
Kaziranga National Park was set up in Assam, part of far east India, with a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros. Now, a century later, there are more than 2,400 rhinoceros – two-thirds of the entire world population.
The shoot-on-site policy is highly controversial. At times park rangers have killed an average of two people every month, totaling more than 20 people a year. In 2015 alone more people were shot and killed by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers.
Not all of those that have been shot are poachers. Some are innocent villagers from nearby tribes that have stumbled into the conflict. Because there are no fences or signs marking the edge of the park some villagers stumble in without knowing. Other locals, as many as 300, are involved in the poaching.
Rhino horn can fetch a pretty penny in places like Vietnam and China, where local people believe it to be a miracle cure for miscellaneous ailments.
Justin Rowlatt, a reporter for the BBC, questioned two of the guards that work at the park:
“The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation.
“You shoot them?” I ask.
“Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”
Although Avdesh has shot two people in his employment at the park, he has not killed anyone. However, he does not live in fear of any consequences should he ever do so.
Just as surprising is that India’s Forest Department isn’t even sure how many people have been killed in the park, as according to one senior official, “We don’t keep each and every account.”
M.K. Yadava, the director of the park back in 2013 when the policy was enacted, justified the enactment, writing, “Crime against man, an animal which is found in great abundance and one who is largely responsible for destroying nature and ecosystems, must take a back seat when crime against mother nature is on the examination table.”
According to the director of the park, Dr. Satyendra Singh, rangers warn suspected poachers first and attempt to arrest them. However, “If they resort to firing we have to kill them.”