Jorhat, Jan. 28: Poachers killed yet another rhino last night and took away its horn in the Burapahar range of Kaziranga National Park, taking the toll this year to four. Rajen Kiling, a suspected poacher, was, however, arrested after sniffer dogs led police to him.
The police recovered seven empty AK-47 cartridges and three empty .303 rifle cartridges from the site where the carcass of the male rhino was found. An axe, too, had been left behind. The scent on the axe handle was what led the dogs to Kiling's house nearby. The police are interrogating the suspect.
The killing, however, has raised eyebrows as it happened right behind the Ghorakhati range office of the forest department and in the vicinity of the Sarali anti-poaching camp, which is usually manned by two night guards.
Expressing concern over the killing, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Suresh Chand said state minister for environment and forest Rakibul Hussain had ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident by a team of senior officers comprising additional principal chief conservator of forests D. Mathur and chief conservator of forest, social forestry, M.M. Sarma.
"These officers have already visited the spot and they will be submitting a report to the government after a thorough inquiry into the incident. The government will take necessary action against forest officers if they are found guilty of negligence of duty," Chand said.
The minister has ordered the park authorities to place staff members who are found prima facie guilty of this offence under suspension and to initiate necessary disciplinary action against them.
Chand said the government had expressed concern over the killing of rhinos in and around Kaziranga National Park despite heavy deployment of Assam Forest Protection Force and home guards armed with self-loading rifles (SLRs), among others, and sought suggestions and cooperation of the general public to strengthen the capability of forest guards.
Chief conservator of forest and Kaziranga director N.K. Vasu said despite stepped up deployment of forest personnel to guard rhinos and other animals, poaching could not be ruled out totally. "The park is open from all sides, its area has expanded and poachers have grown in number owing to an increased demand for rhino horns," he said.
In a statement issued today, Dispur reiterated its decision to constitute and deploy well-equipped rapid response teams to deal with the increasing instances of man-animal conflicts and also those of brutal attacks by people on wild animals straying out of their habitats.
A forest official said the teams would only tackle man-animal conflict and would not guard forest areas against poaching.
The statement said the teams would be deployed in Kamrup, Kamrup (metro), Goalpara, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Darrang, Barpeta, Karbi Anglong and Udalguri districts as well as in Kaziranga National Park. These teams, which will comprise forest department personnel equipped with vehicles, cages and tranquillising equipment, will be deployed in a month, it added.
A high-level committee comprising the principal secretary (environment and forest) as chairman and members including the principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), Assam, PCCF (wildlife), and additional chief conservator of forest (wildlife), has been constituted to ensure timely implementation of the measures announced by the government, the statement said.
In another part of the Golaghat forest division, an elephant is lying injured near the Kuwani beat office bordering Karbi Anglong.
The animal was partly cured after being treated on January 20 by vets of the Centre for Wildlife Rescue and Conservation but today, forest guards saw pus flowing heavily from three wounds and both its left legs swollen.