Assam wants life terms for rhino poachers

June 3rd, 2008 - 4:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Guwahati, June 3 (IANS) The Assam government has proposed tough anti-poaching laws ranging from heavy fines to life imprisonment to combat a rise in the slaughter of rhinos by organised crime syndicates. “We are contemplating certain amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 for an increase in the prison term for poachers from three to 10 years and doubling the quantum of fine to Rs.50,000,” Assam Forest and Wildlife Minister Rockybul Hussain said Tuesday.

“If a poacher repeats the crime we want life imprisonment so as to deter people from carrying out rhino poaching,” the minister told IANS.

The decision to introduce tough laws comes in the wake of a rise in rhino poaching at the famous Kaziranga National Park, besides other wildlife sanctuaries in the state.

If the amendments come through, a poacher will be tried by a senior court, one with a sessions judge.

Armed poacher gangs have slaughtered 10 rhinos so far this year in Kaziranga and Orang sanctuaries for their horn.

“We are committed to protecting the rhinos and have hence deployed additional frontline staff at Kaziranga, besides devising other strategies to combat poaching,” Hussain said.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 one-horned rhinos lumber around Kaziranga - their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target of poachers.

“It is really unfair when some organisations and individuals accuse our forest guards of being hand in glove with poachers. Such statements demoralise the workforce,” the minister said.

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.

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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