Probe ordered into spurt in rhino poaching in Assam

April 29th, 2008 - 11:19 pm ICT by admin  

Guwahati, April 29 (IANS) The Assam government ordered a high-level probe Tuesday, a day after organized poacher gangs wqere found to ahve slaughtered two rhinos at the famed Kaziranga National Park. “We have constituted a nine-member team to investigate recent incidents of poaching. The team would go into details and submit a report shortly for effective measures to combat poaching,” state Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said.

Two rhinos - a mother and a calf - were killed by poachers in Kaziranga, the latest in a spurt in incidents of the pachyderms being slaughtered for their horns.

A wildlife official said gangs armed with sophisticated weapons Monday shot dead the mother and her calf at Agoratoli forest camp inside the park. “The poachers were able to take away the horns after killing the rhinos,” said park ranger D. Boro.

Poachers had killed five rhinos in the 430 sq km park this year in separate incidents, besides two rhinos at the Orang National Park earlier this month. “We have decided to appoint four forest rangers at Kaziranga, besides rushing additional armed home guards to Orang,” the minister said.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the wilds of 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 touched the double digit figure in the park.

Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by poachers in Kaziranga - the highest being 48 in 1992.

There was a reduction in the number of poaching incidents 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.

“The demand for rhino has always been there and with the rhino population decreasing in other sanctuaries, especially in Nepal, the pressure is increasing at Kaziranga,” said Boro.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns that many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicine 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. A rhino horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million per kilogram after the horns are smuggled to China or 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 countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.

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