| Kaziranga: Paradise Lost |
Guwahati, June 5: When forest guards patrolling deep inside Kaziranga National Park accosted a country boat with eight persons last evening, they quickly realised that the occupants were neither fishermen eking out a living nor adventure-seekers on a joyride, but poachers preparing to strike in the dead of night.
No sooner had they issued a directive to the occupants of the boat to moor it than the guards were greeted with a fusillade of bullets.
The guards retaliated with all their firepower, spraying bullets on the boat but the poachers jumped into the Brahmaputra.
The guards knew they had hit some of the poachers. How many had died was the question.
This morning, elite rangers of the park launched a search for the bodies of the poachers suspected to have been killed in the gunbattle at Sanaksingh Toppo under Burapahar range of the park.
“The guards are sure that at least two poachers were hit by bullets,” a Kaziranga official said.
A range officer, who was in the thick of action last evening, said darkness had already fallen in the forest when the guards spotted beams of torchlight coming from the river towards the park.
“The guards first took them for fishermen. But the boat kept coming towards the park’s boundary and when the guards flashed a light at the boat and asked its occupants to moor it, the poachers opened fired,” he said.
The guards retaliated immediately. Guards from three nearby camps also joined the shootout.
“Our guards saw eight persons jumping into the river, some of them injured,” the range officer added.
He said the injured poachers could not have swum far and would be taking shelter inside the park. As for the dead, their bodies could have been swept away by the river.
The guards recovered food and camping material from the boat.
Park director S.N. Buragohain said poachers had become active on the northern side of the park after anti-poaching operations were intensified on the southern side, which was hitherto considered vulnerable. A group of eight poachers, who were apprehended from the Bagori range on Saturday, had also entered the park from the northern side by country boats, he added.
He said poachers use country boats during the floods since it is the only mode of transport inside the park. “Most of the areas get flooded during monsoon and poachers use boats to strike.”
Poachers find it convenient to travel deep inside Kaziranga during the monsoon as water from the Brahmaputra spills onto the park then. The Diphloo, a tributary, meets the Brahmaputra at Sanaksingh, the site of last evening’s gunbattle.
Poachers have killed six rhinos in Kaziranga this year.