Saving the rhino or saving the minister?

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 11/02/2008
The IANS reporter in Guwahati was silent on the demand for a CBI enquiry by the NGO.
NAVA THAKURIA wonders why.

It may be vital for many to save the endangered rhinos in Assam  but has it become more important for some journalists   in  the Northeast  to save the forest minister?  The question arises following stories issued by IANS in the first week of February. While wildlife lovers around the globe have criticised  the the Kaziranga National Park for its failure to protect the one-horned rhinos, a section of journalists wrote stories in Guwahati glorifying the initiative of the State forest minister. The minister has been reported as seeking immediate actions against the poachers in Kaziranga. But those stories really missed the public fury, the local media¿s concern and wildlife activists¿ sustained voices against the ongoing poaching in the park, which had recently celebrated hundred years of success in preserving rhinos.

 

Kaziranga lost 20 rhinos during 2007 to poachers, an all time high in the last decade. The year 2008 began with more sad news. Within  the fifth week of 2008, four rhinos fell prey to the poachers in the same park.The park normally loses 10 to 15 rhinos annually from natural causes and poaching. In fact, the poaching of rhinos  has gone down in the last few years before this.

 

Called black ivory, the rhino horn is prized as an aphrodisiac and a cure for many ills in traditional Oriental medicine, selling for thousands of dollars per kilogram. A single horn can fetch as much as $40,000. Rising incomes across Asia mean that demand for powdered rhino horn is on the increase.

 

The IANS story datelined Guwahati on Feb 5 said, "With one more rhino slaughtered for its horn Tuesday, the Assam government has sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the recent spurt in poaching incidents at the famed Kaziranga National Park.

The decision for the CBI probe comes in the wake of another giant pachyderm found brutally killed Tuesday, taking the toll to four this year.

"We want a CBI to investigate the sudden increase in rhino poaching incidents at Kaziranga," Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain told journalists.

A full grown male rhino was killed at the 430 sq km park early Tuesday and its horn extracted and taken away by poachers.

"Poachers shot dead the rhino using sophisticated weapons. There could well be a big conspiracy behind the recent poaching of rhinos. We are bent on stopping this," the minister said."

 

A second story was  differently headlined but said the same thing. Neither reported what PTI did, "The All Assam Students¿ Union (AASU) on Saturday (February 2) staged a state-wide dharna to protest against the state government¿s alleged failure in checking rhino killing by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park. …" and so on. One of the stories carried the byline of Syed Zarir Hussain. But it never mentioned that actually an environment NGO demanded a CBI enquiry into the matter earlier than the minister.

 

Earlier, the  All Assam Students Union, an active and influential students body of the region staged a demonstration in Guwahati and demanded ¿Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain¿s resignation for failing to take adequate steps to stop this heinous crime¿.

 

Nature¿s Beckon, an environmental NGO in the  Northeast, organized a press meet at Guwahati Press Club on February 4 alleging the nexus of the poachers and a section of forest officials. The NGO office bearers, while addressing the scribes, insisted that Tarun Gogoi, the Assam chief minister, should go for a CBI inquiry on the stock of wildlife parts in the custody of Assam forest department as well as about the poaching of rhinos, elephants, tigers and leopards in Assam.

 

They argue that some wildlife organs (like rhino horn, ivory, skin of tiger and leopard) had already made way to the illegal international market from the custody of forest authority itself. The IANS reporter in Guwahati was silent on the demand for a CBI enquiry by the NGO. So was an AP report datelined Feb 6, and titled "India Cracks Down on Rhino Poaching ."

 

The question arises whether a journalist (or an agency) should ignore other developments in a particular situation?  And whether a minister seeking  an enquiry into the  ministry under his charge, does not point to his own incompetence? Did that irony escape the IANS reporter?

 

 

 

The author is a Guwahati-based independent journalist and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

 

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