Dimapor in Nagaland is the central hub of the trade in rhino horn for India. Close to the national parks of Kaziranga and Orang the city is also close to the Myanmar border and from there into the south east Asian markets of Vietnam and China. Continuing unrest in the area prevents the state authorities to tackling the trade.
Unsophisticated rhino poaching but effective.
Unlike rhino poaching in South Africa, the poachers in India are relatively unsophisticated but still effective. There is no high powered rifles and helicopters to chase down the rhinos but basic .303 rifles and walking as the preferred method of transport. While the rifles may be basic some have been adapted in the many backstreet workshops of Dimapor to take silencers. Once the poachers have made their kill and cut off the rhino horn these small parties – of between 3 and 5 – prefer to walk the 2 or 3 day hike back to the city in order to reduce the chances of being caught.
[pullquote]Currently national park officials and wildlife investigators are putting pressure on the Nagaland state authorities to take action against the poachers[/pullquote] While the .303 rifle is a restricted weapon in India they appear to be plentiful to the local residents mainly as a consequence of the unrest that plighted the state for 3 decades. While there is currently a ceasefire between the state government and the rebels unrest has started to appear once more. The rebels in particular are ignoring their cease fire requirement especially with regards to weapons. Extortion and unofficial taxation by the rebels is rife in the area and the government has limited authority in the state.
National park rangers on the front line.
The biggest risk and danger to the poachers come from the park rangers of the national parks that are in other states. The rangers are well trained and equipped and prepared to use deadly force in order to protect the rhinos. The rangers of Kaziranga National Park in Assam – a World Heritage Site – had a major success last December when they shot and killed 2 poachers. One of them turned out to be Naren Pegu one of the most prolific poachers in the region. In the previous 4 years he had been responsible for the poaching of 30 rhinos and also supplied guns to poachers. Dimapor has turned into the regional hot-spot for illegal wildlife trading and especially rhino horn trading because of a number of reasons:
- poorly patrolled border – the regional border with Myanmar stretches over 1400km but only 52 is manned and patrolled,
- increasing demand for rhino horn due to the soaring wealth of south east Asian countries,
- political unrest in the region resulting in patchy law enforcement. The Dimapor authorities are the bottleneck for intelligence officers work,
- established criminal/rebel networks – investigators have established 4 main criminal networks involved in the rhino horn trade.
Routes of rhino horn out of India.
After the main trade between the poachers and dealers take place in Dimapor the rhino horn is transported out of India along a number of suspected routes. The main route is thought to be across the Myanmar border at the town of Moreh in Manipur. This has some credence to it as some of the marksmen used in the poaching come from the region. Moreh is also an established heroin and drug trading town and route. The profits that can be made from the illegal trade in wildlife is particularly attractive to drug dealers and criminals. Other routes out of Dimapor include going out through Siliguri in West Bengal to Nepal and Bangladesh or Imphal to Myanmar.
Future looks bleak for tackling rhino horn trade.
Currently national park officials and wildlife investigators are putting pressure on the Nagaland state authorities to take action against the poachers and to be more co-operative in intelligence gathering. With extortions, murders and kidnapping a common occurrence the local law enforcement officers have major issues to deal with. It’s unlikely that rhino horn smuggling will come very high up on their list of priorities. Unfortunately with the political unrest mounting again and the hold of the rebels over the state it is not a promising future for ending the rhino horn trade.
On a more positive note, while last year was the busiest year for rhino poaching the conservation programme is a success. Numbers of the endangered one horned rhino are increasing and the species is not under threat from the poachers.