Jorhat, Aug. 1: Two poachers were killed in an encounter with forest guards at Orang National Park late last night. A .303 rifle, ammunition and mobile phones were found on them.
Although the duo are yet to be identified, an Imphal-Dimapur bus ticket was recovered from the possession of one of the slain poachers triggering suspicion that one of them could be from either Manipur or Nagaland. The ticket was purchased on July 29.
The divisional forest officer of Orang, Sushil Kumar Daila, said a gang of four poachers crossed the Punchnoi river last night and entered the park when they were accosted by a group of forest guards. The poachers were armed with two .303 rifles.
“When the poachers were challenged, they opened fire at the forest guards and in retaliatory firing, two poachers died while the other two escaped,” Daila said.
The official said the encounter took place around 1.30am but the bodies were recovered in the morning after a search operation was launched in the area.
Besides one rifle, 18 rounds of ammunition, three mobile phones, two bags containing food, clothes and other items were recovered from the encounter site.
Daila said last night’s attempt by poachers to kill rhinos at Orang was fourth of its kind this year. “We foiled three attempts but because of negligence of a few forest guards, poachers killed a rhino on May 20 ,” he said.
Last year, only one rhino had fallen prey to poachers at the park.
The 78.81 square km national park, the smallest in the state, has a rhino population of 100 and more than 20 Royal Bengal tigers apart from other animals. The park is considered to be a mini Kaziranga.
Daila said poachers have become bolder in recent times and have been targeting rhinos frequently now.
“Earlier, poaching attempts were made during moonlit nights or during festive seasons, but the attempts have become frequent now,” he said.
The official said this could be because the rhino population has increased at Orang in recent times. It was just over 60 till a few years back, but now it has crossed 100. He said the tiger population had also increased in the past few years. Only a few days back, a tiger strayed out of the park and attacked a person at Sampur village adjacent to the park.
“The villager escaped with minor injuries and we chased it back to the park,” the official said.