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Guards fire at intruders on rhino trail

Jorhat, Dec. 3: Forest guards fired upon poachers who were following two rhinos, which had strayed out of Kaziranga National Park, at a sapori off the western tip of Majuli this morning. But rhe poachers managed to escape.

Divisional forest officer (Jorhat) N.K. Malakar told The Telegraph that the forest team spotted the poachers at Mandir sapori, along the boundary of Jorhat-Golaghat forest divisions, and fired at them when the group did not heed their warning to stop.

He said the forest guards were part of the teams tracking two rhinos which had strayed out of Kaziranga a week ago. The rhinos, moving eastwards through the sandbars on the Brahmaputra, have reached saporis near Majuli. The DFO said the search was on with more staff being despatched to the area.

Forester Haren Saikia from Majuli beat, who is leading the group of four men which spotted the poachers, told this correspondent that they saw three armed persons at the sapori around 10.30am.

Saikia and his group reached the sapori this morning from another sapori near Majuli after receiving information last night that a rhino had strayed out of the park and was moving eastwards.

“We first saw footprints of the rhino near some bushes and following it, we suddenly saw three people with sophisticated arms (likely to be AK-series rifles). We asked them to halt but they fled towards the river, taking cover of the bushes, and swam across,” Saikia said, adding that the poachers were trying to locate the rhino.

He and his colleagues fired around 10 rounds from their .303 and .315 rifles but the poachers managed to flee to a nearby sapori. His group went to adjacent Lohar sapori in search of the poachers. People residing in both the saporis told them that they had seen nine armed men passing by. Saikia said the poachers could have sneaked into Lakhimpur district on the north bank of the Brahmaputra.

Another group of foresters, following the rhinos, are staying at Hagun Sapori near the river island while yet another group of five guards is moving along the Brahmaputra on foot and at times in an SUV to protect the animals.

Over the past three years, poachers have killed over six rhinos which have strayed out of the park. Already 27 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga this year.

It is not uncommon for rhinos to wander out of the national park, especially in winter, as they are attracted towards the fresh grass that grows on the saporis that remain submerged during the monsoon, a senior Kaziranga official said.