Poaching takes toll on Rhinoland
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Rhinos in Assam are back in the cross-hairs of poachers. Following a lull of hardly a month towards the end of 2012, the poachers have returned to Kaziranga National Park, gunning down seven rhinos in the current year. That makes it one rhino killed every week there alone. And two other rhinos have been killed elsewhere in the state.
"Yes, incidents of poaching have gone up in the past few weeks," said Assam forest and environment minister Rockybull Hussain. "What is alarming is that while earlier it was criminals and smugglers who were involved in poaching of rhinos, recent incidents have revealed the involvement of armed militant groups."
Of the seven Kaziranga rhinos killed in the current year, three were targeted inside the 860-sq km national park, while the other four had strayed out of the world heritage site, making them easy prey. Beyond Kaziranga, poachers gunned down a rhino each of Orang National Park and Manas National Park. Kaziranga has the highest number of one-horned rhinos anywhere in the world — 2,290 on latest count — apart from the highest density of tigers in India.
The state government has come under fire from NGOs working on conservation of wildlife. "The government has made several announcements in recent times about strengthening protection measures... but on the ground these measures do not appear to have made any significant difference," stated Assam Environmental NGO Forum, a platform of several NGOs. An increase in manpower has not yielded results either, it said.
The state government, on its part, has written to the Union home ministry for permission to allow forest and wildlife protection guards to use sophisticated AK-series rifles, especially in the wake of the focus of armed militant groups on Kaziranga's rhinos, minister Hussain told The Indian Express.
On Sunday evening, a group of militants fired indiscriminately inside a forest close to the national park, said authorities, who suspect they were trying to scare away forest guards or divert their attention so that they could sneak into Kaziranga.