Kaziranga National Park: The Struggle With Record-Keeping and Systematic Monitoring

A concerted effort towards bridging the data compilation gaps will reinforce Kaziranga's status as a beacon of hope for wildlife conservation.
Kaziranga National Park: The Struggle With Record-Keeping and Systematic Monitoring
Kaziranga National Park: The Struggle With Record-Keeping and Systematic MonitoringRepresentative Image

Nestled partly in Assam’s Golaghat and Nagaon districts, the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve is a mesmerizing tapestry of biodiversity and ecological wonders. Renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a sanctuary for the iconic Indian one-horned rhinoceros and the majestic Bengal tiger, Kaziranga holds a place of pride in the realm of wildlife conservation. However, despite its conservation efforts, Kaziranga faces a number of challenges including effectively managing poaching incidents and implementing systematic continuous monitoring processes. There are considerable issues of failing record-keeping and inadequate monitoring which have a detrimental impact on the park's wildlife.

For the year 2023, the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and National Tiger Conservation Authority, GOI, prepared a report titled - “Kaziranga Tiger Reserve Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves in India, 2023” - where they highlighted the very issue of record-keeping and the lack of a centralized database.

Failing record-keeping of poaching Incidents

  • Lack of Centralized Database: One of the primary obstacles in managing poaching incidents at Kaziranga National Park is the lack of a centralized and comprehensive database. Until recently, the park relied on fragmented and manual record-keeping methods, leading to inefficiencies in gathering and analyzing poaching-related data. Without a unified database, the park authorities struggled to understand the scale and patterns of poaching, hindering their ability to devise effective strategies against illegal activities.

  • Inadequate reporting: Another major issue contributing to the failing record-keeping is the underreporting and incomplete documentation of poaching incidents. Many incidents go unreported due to fear of reprisals from poachers, lack of awareness among local communities, or mistrust in the park's authorities. Furthermore, insufficient documentation of incidents hampers the investigation process, making it difficult to build strong cases against poachers and their networks.

    For example, in early 2023, an incident at the park further exemplifies the need for improved record-keeping and systematic monitoring. Forest officials discovered the lifeless body of a female rhinoceros, poached for its valuable horn. The lack of precise records made it challenging for officials to determine whether this was an isolated incident or part of a larger poaching trend.

    The absence of a systematic continuous monitoring system delayed the response to this tragic event. By the time rangers reached the crime scene, vital evidence had already been tampered with by scavengers, making it difficult to identify the poachers responsible for this heinous act.

  • Decimation of information: Now there are certain official Whatsapp groups of park authorities that they use for decimation of information. The Whatsapp groups, which inter alia allocates night patrolling duties, although very effective does not translate into record keeping for future tactical and strategic use. Most of the information stays in the group and often doesn’t reach its desired destination (official records).

Systematic continuous monitoring challenges

  • Resource Constraints: Implementing systematic continuous monitoring requires significant financial and technological resources. However, Kaziranga National Park has struggled with budgetary constraints, limiting its ability to acquire and maintain state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and technology. Inadequate funding affects the installation and maintenance of camera traps, drones, and satellite-based surveillance systems, which are crucial for real-time monitoring and rapid response to potential threats. 

  • Technological Gaps: Inadequate technical expertise and training among park staff have also posed challenges in adopting and effectively using monitoring technologies. Without a well-trained workforce capable of handling advanced monitoring tools, the potential benefits of these technologies are not fully realized. This situation further contributes to the park's vulnerability to poaching incidents and illegal activities.

    The park authorities did acquire surveillance drones to monitor critical areas and deter poachers. However, due to the lack of trained operators and maintenance personnel, the drones remained grounded for extended periods, reducing their effectiveness in deterring illegal activities.

The consequences?

  • Decline in Wildlife Population: The failure to keep accurate records of poaching incidents and the lack of systematic continuous monitoring can lead to a decline in the park's wildlife population. Poaching not only affects the targeted species, such as rhinoceros and tigers, but also disrupts the delicate ecological balance, impacting other flora and fauna.

  • Erosion of Public Trust: The inability to effectively manage and address poaching incidents erodes public trust in the park's conservation efforts. Local communities play a critical role in safeguarding the park's resources, and their trust and cooperation are essential in mitigating poaching threats. When incidents are not adequately documented or addressed, it creates skepticism among local communities regarding the park's commitment to protecting their natural heritage.

    In 2022, an incident of rhinoceros poaching was reported near a village bordering Kaziranga National Park. Despite the initial report, there was no follow-up investigation or communication with the affected community. This lack of engagement led to growing frustration and skepticism among the locals about the park's commitment to their well-being and the preservation of wildlife.

The need for an institutional mechanism to compile and utilize anti-poaching data

The absence of an institutional mechanism to compile relevant data generated through anti-poaching camp duty registers, wireless radio, patrolling registers, and other sources is a major weakness in its management. This lack of a centralized data compilation system hampers effective conservation strategies, impedes informed decision-making, and limits the park's ability to combat poaching threats effectively.

It is pertinent to mention that accurate and comprehensive data compilation is the foundational pillar of effective wildlife conservation. It offers a clear and comprehensive view of the park's anti-poaching efforts, wildlife trends, and poaching incidents. This knowledge enables park management to make well-informed decisions, allocate resources efficiently, and prioritize conservation measures effectively.

Centralized data helps identify patterns and trends in poaching activities, allowing authorities to deploy targeted anti-poaching strategies and address specific threat factors. By compiling data from various sources, park authorities can assess the effectiveness of ongoing conservation strategies. Identifying successful initiatives and areas requiring improvement contributes to evidence-based conservation planning.

The reasons behind data compilation lapses

At present, relevant data generated through anti-poaching camp duty registers, wireless radio, patrolling registers, and other sources are dispersed and not integrated into a unified system. This fragmentation leads to duplication, inaccuracies, and gaps in data.

The park may also lack adequate technology integration for seamless data compilation and the absence of a centralized database and modern data management systems hinders efficient data aggregation and analysis.

Moreover, the park's limited resources may prioritize on-the-ground conservation activities over data management, resulting in ad-hoc record-keeping practices.

Also, personnel responsible for data compilation may require adequate training and expertise in data management, analysis, and interpretation. The absence of a dedicated institutional mechanism or department responsible for data management may further contribute to the lapses in data compilation.

To conclude…

Kaziranga National Park's conservation success hinges on its ability to address challenges effectively, including the lack of an institutional mechanism for compiling and utilizing anti-poaching data. By establishing a robust data management system, park authorities can make informed decisions, identify poaching patterns, and evaluate conservation strategies more effectively.

A centralized database, investments in modern technology, training for park personnel, and regular data audits will enable Kaziranga National Park to strengthen its anti-poaching efforts and continue preserving its rich biodiversity for future generations. A concerted effort towards bridging the data compilation gaps will reinforce Kaziranga's status as a beacon of hope for wildlife conservation.

Kaziranga National Park: The Struggle With Record-Keeping and Systematic Monitoring
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