National Geographic : 2010 Aug
• tigers taking down an adult---a risky enterprise rarely reported. e most serious threat to rhinos still comes from predatory humans, just as it did a century ago. Which is why Kaziranga has nearly 600 guards in the eld, stationed between the unruly big animals and the poachers. Squads operate out of 130 camps, some built of concrete, the rest of logs and thatch, all standing on stilts. Guards mark the posts to show the levels of oods; some years, it's a post on the upper story. e men move in pairs or trios on foot and elephant- back---or by boat. Afternoon patrols finish a er dark. e guards wake to begin another sortie long before dawn, pausing rst at a hum- ble shrine to the goddess Kakoma to ask once again for safe passage. When the moon grows big, teams stay out all night. e mission never ceases. People caught tak- ing sh from the river or bils have their nets con scated and are subject to nes. Cattle and goats grazing inside the park have to be shooed home to village pastures. More o en, guards are called on to drive wildlife from the villages and elds back to Kaziranga. at's all routine work compared with dealing with armed men stalking rhinos. e animals' horns---made of agglutinated keratin fibers, the same substance as in hooves and hair---are prized for dagger handles in the Middle East and valued even more highly throughout Asia for their purported medicinal powers. With a single horn fetching over $30,000 on the black market, this is a lethal commodity. From 1985 through 2005, illegal hunters shot 447 Kaziranga rhinos and several guards; guards killed 90 poachers and arrested 663. e number of rhinos poached annually dropped below nine starting in 1998---then in 2007 it rose to 18. By the h week of 2008, when I arrived, ve more had been felled. One was a calf, slaughtered for a tiny nub of horn. e wounded mother's horn Suspects in a rhino- poaching deal are blindfolded for inter- rogation at the Baguri ranger station; they were later released. At right, a female rhino was killed by a pair of tigers while she was having difficulty birth- ing a calf. Park staff removed her horn after she died to prevent poachers from taking it.