Assam urges CBI to probe spurt in rhino poaching

May 3rd, 2008 - 11:49 am ICT by admin  

Guwahati, May 3 (IANS) The Assam government has sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the recent spurt in incidents of rhino poaching, an official said. The decision for the CBI probe came after five rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in the past week at the famed Kaziranga National Park and the Orang National Park, taking the number of the giant pachyderms killed so far this year to nine. In 2007, organized poacher gangs at Kaziranga killed 18 rhinos.

“On my request, the chief minister has asked the state home department to formally seek a CBI probe to investigate the sudden increase in rhino poaching incidents at Kaziranga and other sanctuaries,” Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain told IANS.

There has been a public outcry in Assam with the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the state’s apex student organization representing about 500,000 students, demanding a CBI probe blaming the state authorities for failing to prevent poaching of the endangered animal.

“Any doubts or controversy surrounding poaching of rhinos would be clear once the CBI investigates the matter,” the minister said.

The Assam government on its part ordered a high-level probe Tuesday, a day after organized poacher gangs slaughtered two rhinos at Kaziranga and decamped with their horns.

The minister said a nine-member team has been constituted to investigate recent incidents of poaching. The team would go into details and submit a report shortly for effective measures to combat poaching.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 rhinos lumber around the wilderness of the 430 sq km Kaziranga - their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.

Last year, 18 rhinos were killed by poachers, the first time in a decade that the number of rhinos killed in a year has touched a double digit figure in the park. Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by organized poachers in the wilds of Kaziranga - the highest being 48 in 1992.

There was a reduction in the number poached between 1998 and 2006 with just 47 killed - the decrease attributed to intensive protection mechanisms and a better intelligence network, coupled with support from local villagers living on the periphery of the park.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of some militant groups being involved in the poaching racket and using the rhino horn money to fund their rebel campaigns,” the minister said.

Organized poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering - rhino horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million per kilogram in the international market after the horns are smuggled to China or sold in other clandestine Asian markets.

Once extracted, the rhino horn is routed to agents in places like Dimapur in Nagaland, Imphal in Manipur and Siliguri in West Bengal.

The route for rhino horn smuggling is an interesting one - a possible route is to Kathmandu via Siliguri and then from Nepal to China and the Middle East. The other possible route is from Imphal to Moreh on the Manipur border with Myanmar and then via Myanmar to like Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.

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