The gun and cartridges seized from the forest. Picture by Anirban Choudhury
Alipurduar, June 10: Five suspected poachers were spotted in the Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary yesterday evening, but they could not be caught though foresters opened fire in the air and gave them a chase.
A .303 rifle and 14 live cartridges, suspected to have been used by the poachers, were recovered by the foresters when they launched a search to catch the five. The authorities are worried that poachers are once again active in Jaldapara after a hiatus of 10 years.
Guard Bhupendranath Sil was patrolling the forest on a kunki (trained elephant) in compartment I of the Teesta east camp beat when he saw three suspicious looking men with their faces covered around 6pm yesterday. Sil asked the three what they were doing in the forest. The men did not give any reply and started running away.
“The forester found that one of the three men had a rifle slung on his back and started chasing them. Although he fired three rounds in the air, the poachers did not stop and escaped. In the meantime, he called up Jaldapara west range officer Ranjan Talukdar on the cellphone and told him that three men were roaming the forest,” said a forest officer who did not want to be named.
After covering a distance of 300 metres on the elephant, Sil spotted two more men in the forest. He fired another two rounds in the air, but they also ran away.
“Talukdar and other foresters reached the spot on two other kunkis and started a search. They found a .303 rifle with a silencer fitted to it, 14 rounds of live cartridges, rain coats, towels, mobile charger, torches, axe and a chopper,” said a forest officer.
The forest officers suspect that the poachers are from Assam or Nagaland. “As the cartridges were wrapped in a Nagaland newspaper and the towels are of the kind used in Assam, we believe the poachers are from the Northeast. Searches will be launched to round up the gang members,” said Om Prakash, the divisional forest officer of wildlife III.
Yesterday’s incident had brought back memories of the 1990s when poaching was rampant in north Bengal forests.
“Most of the accused then were from the northeastern states. The number of one-horn rhinoceros in Jaldapara had come down to 15 in 1985 because of poaching. The foresters adopted tough measures and intensified the patrolling. After 2000, no poaching cases were reported in Jaldapara. Today, the sanctuary has around 150 one-horn rhinos,” said a forest officer.
Jaldapara is famous for one-horn rhino.