Kaziranga National Park guards Avdesh and Jibeshwar / BBC

The war against poaching has reached new heights. Kaziranga National Park has discovered an incredibly successful way to protect their endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceros: shoot suspected poachers dead.

Kaziranga National Park, located in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of Assam, India, hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinos. They started with just a handful of rhinos and now protect more than 2,400! What contributes to the park’s success where so many others have failed? The park rangers were given legal permission to shoot and kill.

BBC asked two rangers what they do when they encounter poachers:

“The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation.

“You shoot them?” I ask.

“Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”

The rangers have been killing poachers at a rate of two per month. As you can see in the graphs below, more poachers than rhinos were killed in 2015. This must have put fear in the hearts of future poachers, as the number of poachers killed dropped dramatically in 2016.

But at what cost? A nearby family’s son was shot by rangers in 2013. The father, Kachu Kealing, says his son has a learning disability and may have strayed into the park while looking after their two cows. There are no fences or any signs to mark the border of the park. Park authorities say guards shot the boy inside Kaziranga National Park when he did not respond to a warning.

“He could barely do up his own trousers or his shoes,” his father says, “everyone knew him in the area because he was so disabled.”

Kachu Kealing does not believe there is any action he can take now, especially given the unusual protection park guards have from prosecution. “I haven’t filed a court case. I’m a poor man, I can’t afford to take them on.”

What are your thoughts? Have the rangers gone too far in protecting endangered Rhinos, or are they heroes?

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