Six held over rhino poaching

The suspected poachers arrested by the forest department. Picture by Anirban Choudhury

Alipurduar: A gang of poachers, including a "sharp shooter" from Arunachal Pradesh and a teacher, sneaked into the Jaldapara National Park and shot dead an adult female rhino on Monday, sawing away its horn.

Foresters could nab six of them on Tuesday and recovered the horn. Also, a rifle that they had buried in the forest, and live bullets, were also found.

Sources said around 10am on Monday, the gang entered Jaldapara and killed the rhino.

"While leaving, they buried the .303 rifle in the forest, along with around 40 rounds of live cartridges. They were planning to smuggle the horn to Assam," said an official.

Foresters got information and raided a private bus bound for Assam. From the bus, they arrested Marto Riba, a resident of West Siang district in Arunachal Pradesh, Rajib Rava, who is teacher at a private school in Banarhat of Jalpaiguri and Raju Rava, a resident of Uttar Mendabari in Alipurduar district. They were carrying the horn.

The trio were interrogated and on the basis of the information provided by them, the firearm and the ammunition were seized. Also, raids were conducted and three others were arrested from Siliguri and Kodalbasti. They are Sanjib Lama, Sevok Kami and Rupesh Rava. Sanjib, foresters said, was involved in smuggling of ivory and was named in an earlier case.

This is the second time that a sharp shooter based in northeast has been arrested. Earlier, a similar shooter from Nagaland was arrested in connection with a similar rhino poaching case.

"It is clear that northeast based poachers and animal parts smugglers are active in the region. They are taking help of some local people to get into the forests," said a senior forest official.

Those arrested have revealed that they were keeping watch on the movement of the female rhino for some days.

The incident has again posed a question over the security of wild animals in the reserve forests of north Bengal.

Earlier, on April 19 last year, decomposed carcass of a rhino was spotted in Gorumara National Park that was killed at least a month ago. On the next day, carcass of another male adult rhino was spotted in the same forest area.

Also, in 2014, three rhinos and in 2015, five rhinos were poached in Jaldapara. In 2015, as foresters started probing one such poaching case, they could recover even an AK-56 rifle from Mendabari and arrested the shooter from Nagaland.

The incident has left senior foresters upset. "We fail to understand why, despite the staff being asked to be on alert kept, such incidents are happening. A probe would be conducted to find out whether there had been negligence of duty by any staff," said an official.

Ujjwal Ghosh, chief conservator of forests (wildlife, north), said they would interrogate the six suspects further. "We believe all these six persons can provide us with more information about poachers and animal parts smuggling rackets," Ghosh added.


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