Rhino poachers strike in Kaziranga

June 6th, 2008 - 10:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, June 6 (IANS) Poachers in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park Friday slaughtered a one-horned rhino for its horn in the latest of incidents of rhino poaching in the north-eastern state. A park warden said they recovered the rhino carcass near the Agoratoli range of the 430 sq km park in eastern Assam.

“The poachers were able to take away the horn of the adult rhino,” a park ranger said.

“The poachers used automatic weapons to gun down the rhino probably in the early hours of Friday.” With this incident, the total number of rhinos killed so far this year by organized poacher gangs has gone up to 11.

Friday’s poaching incident came shortly after Assam forests minister Rockybul Hussain announced that the state government proposed harsher laws envisaging punishment ranging from life imprisonment to a 10-year prison term to tackle the menace of rhino poaching.

The government is contemplating an increase in the prison term for poachers from three to 10 years and doubling the quantum of fine on poachers to Rs.50,000.

The move will require an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act and the state’s plan can be put into operation only after appropriate amendments.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 one-horned rhinos live in Kaziranga - their numbers ironically making the giant mammal a favourite target of poachers. Last year, 18 rhinos were killed by poachers, the first time in a decade that the number of rhinos killed in a year in the park touched double digits.

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 poached between 1998 and 2006, with 47 killed during this period.

The decrease was attributed to intensive protection mechanisms and a better intelligence network, coupled with support from local villagers living on the periphery of the park.

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

The 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 ($38,000) per kg in the international market. 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 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 Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.

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