From Tehelka Archives June 26, 2001: Illegal migrant settlements threaten Kaziranga Poachers find it most convenient to hide among these migrant families and slip in and out of the park unnoticed, says Arnab Pratim Dutta

The Kaziranga National Park, home to the world famous Rhinoceros, is under serious threat from illegal migrant settlements in the park’s sixth extension area.

According to an official of the Kaziranga National Park, unabated migration to the chaparis (river bank) in the sixth extension area of Kaziranaga National Park has been going on for a long time. He said that due to the stay order given by the Guwahati High Court, the National Park authority has not been able to evict the encroachers.

“We had carried out drives to evict illegal encroachers from the sixth extension of the park last year, when a Guwahati High Court order stopped us from doing so. Now these illegal migrants settled on the periphery of Kaziranga have become a serious threat to the animals of the park,” he said. “Taking advantage of the court order, the population at the chaparis of the sixth extension has doubled in the last one year,” the officer said.

The officer said that in October last year, a 303 rifle was stolen from the forest camp in the area.

“We had sent a team of forest officials to the chaparis to investigate but the rifle could not be located. Furthermore, the illegal Bangladeshis living in these chaparis were hostile and the team had to return empty handed,” he said.

He said the greatest danger the park faces is from poachers, who come and live with these migrant Bangladeshi families, commit their crime and slip away unnoticed. “While most poachers hunt small animals and fish illegally inside Kaziranga, we suspect that most of the rhino poaching is done from these illegal settlements,” he said.

“Most of the poaching is carried on during the winter season, when animals migrate to the surrounding Mikir Hills. That is the time when poachers come out and hunt animals like deer and wild boars. Last year we caught over a dozen people trying smuggle venison and sell it in the local market,” he said.

According to non-government organisation (NGO) worker Bibhab Talukdar, it is the politicians who encouraging the settlement of illegal migrants on the chaparis. Last year, he said, the former Speaker of the Assam Legislative Assembly, Ganesh Kutum, had ordered the setting up of fisheries on the sixth extension of the Kaziranga. “He also encouraged fishing in the various water bodies that were inside the Kaziranga,” Talukdar alleged.

At the moment, according to Talukdar, there are over 500 illegal migrant families living on the chaparis, and the numbers are increasing day by day.