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Poachers kill 2 more rhinos

- Plans afoot to stop animals from straying

Jorhat, Jan. 11: The carcasses of two rhinos, which had strayed out of Kaziranga and Orang national parks, were found today with their horns gouged out. These are the first killings this year; Assam had lost 21 rhinos to poachers last year.

Experts are mulling different solutions to prevent rhinos from straying, as the problem has grown into a major threat to rhino conservation efforts.

“We have to stress on tools like smart patrolling which would use hi-tech cameras to keep track of rhinos in places like Kaziranga and Orang national parks,” said Deba Kumar Dutta, Manas-based project officer with WWF India. “For smaller places and smaller animal populations, radio collaring can be used.”

Chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said the Centre already has a plan to introduce smart patrolling in the country. “What we have to see is how effective it can be here.”

Smart patrolling involves a specialised software that uses satellite imagery and GPS to keep track of animals.

“In a place like Kaziranga, the scale of the operation would be massive and the animals would have to be monitored on a daily basis. The operations will have to be customised for each park we have,” Dutta said.

One rhino carcass was found at Sitolmari Sor, a sandbar in Morigaon district. The horn had been removed before the forest team got to the spot, 1km from Orang. The rhino is believed to have strayed from the park and crossed the Brahmaputra, which is relatively dry in winter. Morigaon additional superintendent of police (headquarters) Rup Kishore Handique said the animal had been killed recently.

The second killing was reported at Gohpur, adjacent to Kaziranga, in Sonitpur district. Poachers shot the rhino, which is believed to have strayed from the park, and chopped off its horn. They also took away its nails, a portion of its ears and meat in the wee hours. The incident occurred outside the sixth addition to the park, on its northern side, at Gopal Jarani, a Brahmaputra sandbar, B. Kakati, range officer (northern) of Kaziranga told The Telegraph. Sources said such body parts are taken by poachers to prove to buyers that the horn has actually been cut off a rhino and is not a fake.

Kaziranga director N.K. Vasu said cutting up the animal for meat was also “not really weird” as people of a few communities reportedly consume leopard and rhino meat.

Kakati said 12 persons had been detained at Gohpur and handed over to police.

Dutta said rhinos can stray over long distances. They can walk endlessly if they keep getting food and nobody disturbs them.

“I have had the experience of rescuing a rhino with my team in September 2008. The rhino had reached the Indo-Bhutan border and gone to Kalseni in Rangiya, covering 100km,” he added.

Vasu said about 20 rhinos have been chased back to Kaziranga in the last 15 days alone and anti-poaching operations have been intensified along the northern side of the park.