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...Two teams fan out to protect rhinos

A rhino at Kaziranga National Park

Jorhat, Dec. 1: Two armed teams of forest staff, including guards from Kaziranga National Park, are working round the clock to find two rhinos that strayed out of the park around six days ago.

Moving from one sapori (sandbar) to the next, the rhinos were spotted near Majuli island.

One team is combing the saporis while the other is moving along the mainland to prevent poachers from killing the animals.

Over the past three years, poachers killed six rhinos that had strayed outside the park. Already, 27 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga National Park this year.

It is not uncommon for rhinos to wander out of the national park, especially in winter.

Rhinos that venture out are vulnerable to poachers and these animals can also come into conflict with humans. At least, three persons have been killed in rhino attacks near Kaziranga over the past three years.

In winter, fresh grass grows on the saporis that remain submerged during the monsoon. Rhinos stray to feed on this fresh grass, a senior Kaziranga official said. With the number of rhinos increasing in the park (over 2,200 according to the census conducted in March) and the grass drying up during winter, more and more rhinos are venturing outside the park, the source said.

The park official said although rhinos had reached a safe zone in the conservation list, efforts to protect them from poachers must continue. “Rhinos are on the hit list of poachers owing to the demand for its horn in the international market. Hence, we have to intensify our protection efforts,” he said.

Divisional forest officer (Jorhat) N.K. Malakar told The Telegraph today that two teams, comprising about 10 persons each, were tracking the rhinos since last week.

One team, being lead by Majuli beat officer (in-charge) Dipak Dutta, and searching the saporis. This team is camping in the saporis, Malakar said.

The team is using boats and motorbikes and following footprints and excreta of the rhinos. After making enquiries, the team has found out that people who own khutis (small dairy sheds to house buffaloes and cows) in the saporis have seen the animals in the past three days.

The DFO said the other team was moving along the Brahmaputra bank on foot and also on a SUV at times to trace and protect the animal.

The police have also been informed and requested to alert village defence parties.

Park director N.K. Vasu said he has told the divisional forest officers of the adjoining districts to mobilise support against poaching by holding meetings with villagers and intensify patrolling on boat and on foot. Forest divisions of Golaghat, Jorhat, Nagaon, Sonitpur (east) and Sonitpur (west) have been alerted.

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