Friday, February 10, 2017

India's Rangers Use Deadly Force to Protect Rhinos

The poachers in India's Karziranga National Park on the banks of the Bramaphutra will surely get the message:  they risk being shot on sight if they poach one of the remaining Indian rhinoceros living there.  Two thirds of the world's population of the one-horned rhino live in Kaziranga, which is a conservation success story.  At one time only a handful of Indian rhinos survived in the wild, now an estimated 2400 exist in the Park, thanks in part to the controversial authority granted rangers to kill suspected human poachers.

It is a drastic action to kill a human being engaging in criminal activity without due process of law, a principle ingrained in common law countries and their former colonies.  Usually fatal force is reserved for police use against the most dangerous animal on Earth--man.  But the authority granted to Karzranga's rangers is recognition of the dire straits of animals bearing coveted body parts like horn and ivory. The street price for horn--considered an aphrodisiac--can reach $6000 per 100g making it more valuable than gold.  Indian rhino horn is considered more potent than African two-horned. At one point (2014-15) rangers were killing more than twenty people a year--more than the number of animals poached. Unfortunately innocent villagers are sometimes caught up in the war to protect rhinos. Dr. Singh, who runs the park, says he thinks about 300 villagers are involved in poaching, but the actual killers come from neighboring states. Standing orders are to shoot anyone hunting at night.  Dr. Singh also instructs his rangers to warn first, then use their weapons.

Nevertheless there are stories of unjustified deaths and injury among the villagers. A young boy was severely crippled by gunshots from rangers. He was only in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Park authority admitted the mistake and paid for his medical treatment at the main hospital five hours away.  Despite numerous operations to repair his destroyed calf muscle, the boy will be crippled for life. The Park paid about $3000 to the boy's family in compensation. His father says his son will not be able to make a living for the rest of his life.

Getty Images: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge feeds a calf
Karziranga is densely populated like the rest of India, so the death toll is becoming a sore point with local inhabitants.  Critics call the use of deadly force to protect wildlife  "extra-judicial executions".  American police officers are armed and some critics argue, dangerous, but their use of deadly force to allegedly to protect themselves and the public is also justified as a deterrent to more crime. If a criminal's victims is an innocent animal threatened with extinction, then in US Person's opinion it is not a moral overreach to use deadly force to suppress this existential threat.  In some Indian tiger reserves there are no tigers because they fail miserably to protect the vanishing, iconic animal. Karziranga National Park is going the needed extra mile. Make no distortion, rangers need to be accountable at law for their actions. Only then can they make morally defensible decisions to use deadly force to protect a wild life.