| The rhino killed in Kaziranga on Thursday night. Picture by UB Photos |
Jorhat, March 1: Kaziranga National Park witnessed the killing of yet another rhino by poachers last night, taking the toll to 11 in the state this year.
Of the 11 rhinos killed, nine belonged to Kaziranga, which has over 2,000 rhinos.
The park director, N.K. Vasu, said the carcass of the male rhino, with its horn missing, was recovered from near the Arikati forest camp of Agaratoli range of the national park early this morning.
“Gunshots were heard around 5pm yesterday and an operation was launched immediately but we failed to locate the group of poachers and the rhino carcass in the dark. The carcass was spotted this morning,” the director said.
Vasu said operations were on to apprehend the group of poachers, which is still believed to be hiding inside the park.
Forest guards on elephants have been scanning the national park since early this morning.
He said there were also reports of movement of poachers along the south bank and in adjacent Karbi Anglong.
“Poachers are ready to take any risk as the demand for rhino horn has increased in the international market,” Vasu said.
The incident comes a day after state forest minister Rakibul Hussain effected a major reshuffle of ranger-level officers after a high-level review meeting with senior department officials at the national park. The six officers had been instructed to join their new posts within 72 hours. The transfer notifications were issued yesterday.
Hussain told The Telegraph today that besides the reshuffle yesterday, he had also directed commandants J. Kharsa and Amit Bhuyan of the Assam Forest Protection Force to camp at Biswanath and Bagori respectively.
He had also cleared a proposal to fill up 111 vacancies of frontline staff at the earliest. “Dispur has written to the Centre, seeking a CBI probe into the rise in cases of rhino killing but we are yet to know how it has progressed,” Hussain said.
According to the reshuffle, L. Gogoi, ranger, Kohora, will take over as ranger of the state zoo in Guwahati from M. Tamuli who has been shifted to Kohora range, while Selim Ahmed, ranger, Pobitora, has replaced B. Baishya as ranger of Agoratoli. Baishya will move to Eastern Assam Wildlife office at Bokakhat. Ashok Kumar Das, ranger, Amchang range, Bonda, has been shifted to Pobitora range while K.K. Deka, ranger, Bagori, replaces him.
A police official at Karbi Anglong said despite a massive crackdown on poachers and rhino horn traders recently, the killing of rhinos continued at Kaziranga because of the lack of co-ordination between the security forces and the forest department. Poachers had also killed another rhino at the Agaratoli range of the park last Monday.
“We have provided names of at least 25 poachers who hail from near the national park. However, the Bokakhat and Koliabor police as well as the Kaziranga authorities have failed to apprehend them,” the official, who was involved in the arrest of 64 poachers in a monthlong operation last year, said.
“Some of the poachers whose names had figured in the investigation had fled to Chennai and we had provided these names to Bokakhat and Koliabor police as well as the park authorities. Most likely these poachers have returned to Kaziranga now,” he added.
He said the operation by Karbi Anglong police last year had managed to stop poaching at Kaziranga for two months.
“There was not a single case of poaching at Kaziranga in November and December last year,” he claimed.
Apart from arresting 64 poachers and rhino horn traders, including a Myanmarese national and a few more near the national park, Karbi Anglong police had also recovered several weapons, including an AK-47 rifle.
A Kaziranga official said the park authorities have been taking necessary steps to check poachers.
Only recently, 160 additional guards have been deputed to the national park, which has nearly 900 personnel, including guards and officials.
“The area of the national park has increased, making it more difficult to man the entire area,” he said.