2 more rhinos killed in Orang

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 11.11.13
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Jorhat, Nov. 10: Exactly a week after a rhino was killed at Orang National Park, poachers shot dead two more rhinos — a female and her calf — at the smallest national park in Assam last evening.

The carcasses of the two rhinos with their horns missing were recovered from the bank of the Brahmaputra in the Hazarbigha area. This is the second such poaching incident at Orang this year, which has about 100 rhinos.

Forest officials said gunshots were heard late last evening and immediately an operation was launched but by the time the carcasses were located, poachers had managed to take away the horns. Four empty cartridges of .303 rifles were recovered from the site.

While Kaziranga, Pobitora and Manas have borne the brunt of poaching this year, the 78.81 square km Orang National Park was a zero poaching area till last Sunday’s incident when poachers shot dead a male rhino and chopped off its horn at Nichlabari, after the animal strayed out. A rhino each had been killed in the park in 2011 and 2012.

Activists of Aranya Surakshya Samiti, an Orang-based NGO, staged a protest rally near the park today and demanded the army be deployed in rhino habitats of the state as the government has failed to protect the state animal. The NGO and a few other local organisations have also decided to block National Highway 52 near the park tomorrow as a mark of protest.

There has been a tremendous pressure from poachers in the rhino habitats in recent years, as prices of rhino horns have soared in Southeast Asian countries. Sources said a rhino horn fetches about Rs 80 lakh.

Altogether 34 rhinos have fallen prey to poachers’ bullets this year, with Kaziranga leading the way with 26. Kaziranga, a world heritage site, has over 2,000 rhinos.

A forest official at Orang said it becomes difficult to discharge their duties in winter owing to poor visibility. “Visibility becomes poor because of the thick fog. Poachers take advantage of the situation.”

Poachers took advantage of the Diwali celebrations during the earlier incident, when forest guards failed to identify gunshot sounds in the cacophony of crackers.

There were several attempts of poaching at Orang this year but the dedicated forest staff foiled them. Last month, an Orang range officer along with 11 other forest guards received the Vanya Prani Mitra Award for 2013 from the state government for killing two poachers.

Park officials had also managed to nab Ikramul Islam, kingpin of a poaching gang, after he sneaked into the park in January this year.

Apart from the thriving rhino population, the park has recorded the highest Royal Bengal tiger population with 24 tigers being found during the census carried out this year. However, there has been a debate over the figure with a few experts claiming such a big population of tigers cannot be permanent settlers in such a small area. “Some tigers may have moved from other habitats, like Kaziranga and Nameri national parks,” an expert had said.