Poachers kill another rhino

Jorhat/Guwahati, Feb. 2: Poachers killed yet another rhino in Kaziranga National Park this morning, taking the toll to eight in Assam this year.

They, however, failed to take away the horn of the female rhino as alert forest guards immediately arrived at the spot on hearing gunshots. The rhino was killed at Kukrakata reserve forest near Sundari forest camp under Burapahar range.

Kaziranga director N.K. Vasu said the gunshots were heard around 6am and forest guards immediately rushed to the spot. "They accosted a group of about five poachers who opened fire on them with AK-47 rifles and double-barrelled guns. The forest guards retaliated but the poachers managed to flee, taking advantage of the hilly terrain. They, however, failed to take away the horn. Operations are on to apprehend the poachers."

Vasu said despite stepped up operations, it was difficult to bring poaching down to zero as the park was open from all sides. Besides, the park's area has expanded and poachers have grown in number because of the increased demand for rhino horns in the international market.

Of the eight rhinos killed this year, six have been killed in and around Kaziranga, one in Morigaon and one in Manas. The horns of two rhinos could not be taken away.

Wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar told The Telegraph: "The first thing the state government has to do is admit to the crisis and then act." He charted a five-point strategy to deal with the crisis ' declare an emergency and red alert, move in 40 armed personnel to man the outer escape routes used by poachers, activate intelligence agencies to track suspicious movements and bring in outside teams of special rangers and empower them to deal with emergency.

Prerna Singh Bindra, a member of the National Board for Wildlife, said, "Eight rhinos have been killed this year while 21 were killed last year, most of them in and around Kaziranga. This is shocking. The park appears to be under siege. We need an independent inquiry into the poaching incidents. We also need to ensure accountability. Rhino poaching has peaked globally, indicating that the demand for its horn has shot up. We are looking at a conservation crisis and need to be prepared for it."

Dipankar Ghose, director of the Species and Landscapes, WWF India, said given the largescale killing of rhinos in African countries, efforts should be made to strengthen security in our rhino areas.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has stated in its document on rhinos that though losses to rhino population due to poaching in India are still low compared to many African countries, there is no room for complacency.

A meeting will be held at Kaziranga tomorrow to discuss ways to augment protection of rhinos.

It will be attended by officials and NGOs.

The government had suspended five forest personnel of Kaziranga on Thursday. It has also moved the Centre for a CBI inquiry to unearth any conspiracy involving forces with vested interest.

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