Guwahati, Aug. 3: In one of the most audacious poaching attempts in Assam, miscreants tried to electrocute a rhino inside its enclosure at the state zoo early yesterday.
Had it not been for a police team that had fortuitously entered the sprawling zoo to search for militants just when the poachers were at work, the rhino would have been electrocuted and its priceless horn taken away. The 26-year-old rhino, named John, has been in the zoo since it was rescued from Mayong in 1980. There are eight rhinos at the zoo now.
Narayan Mahanta, the divisional forest officer in charge of the zoo, admitted to a “serious security lapse”.
The incident occurred between midnight and 2 am. The miscreants ostensibly entered the zoo through the boundary wall, which has gaping holes, near the rhino enclosure.
Geetanagar police, who registered a case and questioned 12 people in connection with the abortive attempt to kill the rhino, said the poachers had connected a flexible wire to the electricity socket of a toilet inside a house adjacent to the zoo.
“They were planning to connect a barbed wire, which they had already thrown inside the rhino enclosure, to the flexible wire. But before they could connect the two wires, zoo guards were alerted by the heavy thumping of the agitated rhino,” a police official said.
The guards arrived after the miscreants fled, while the police team went after them.
An official of the Assam State Electricity Board said the rhino could have been killed by an electric shock. “Though a single 220-volt jolt might not kill a rhino, a continuous stream of electricity could be fatal.”
The zoo has 10 guards, who, a police officer said, “may have become complacent as a zoo is not exactly a place where one would expect much action”.
The jittery zoo authorities today set up a 24-hour control room within the premises. “Visitors will be thoroughly frisked and all details of vehicles coming to the zoo will be recorded,” Mahanta said.
He said the security measures might inconvenience visitors, but they would have to bear with the zoo authorities. “This is a big lesson to us and we will have to tie up all loose ends,” he said.
Zoo staff found wires and an axe near the rhino enclosure. The police said they would question the staff members who were on duty that night.
The police, however, said it was premature to assume that the retired government employee from whose house the miscreants tried to get an electric connection had anything to do with the incident.
“The toilet is located outside the house. We questioned the owner yesterday and today, but got nothing out of it,” he added.
The police said the zoo wo-uld remain vulnerable to such attempts if the authorities did not plug the holes in the boun-dary wall, which was detected by the security personnel during their search operations.