Rhino found dead in Kaziranga

GUWAHATI: An endangered one-horned rhinoceros was found dead with its horn gouged out at the famous Kaziranga National Park in Assam, in the
fourth such incident in the past one month, officials said Thursday.

A wildlife official said the latest killing was reported late Wednesday from inside the sanctuary, 220 km east of Guwahati.

"The rhino carcass was found from near a sandbar on the fringe of the park. Its horn had been gouged out. Poachers used automatic weapons to kill the rhino," a park ranger said over telephone from Kaziranga.

On Monday, poachers at the Orang National Park in northern Assam gouged out the horn of another rhino. The horn was extracted while the animal was still alive. It later succumbed to the wounds.

"We are indeed worried about the spurt in incidents of rhino poaching inside Kaziranga and elsewhere," a senior wildlife official said, requesting anonymity.

At least 18 rhinos were killed in 2008 and 14 in 2009.

Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by poachers in the wilds of Kaziranga, the highest being 48 in 1992.

As per the 2009 census report, some 2,048 of the world's estimated 3,000 one-horned rhinos lumber around the swamps and grasslands of Kaziranga, their concentration here ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target of poachers.

Forest rangers complain about poor infrastructure and obsolete weapons compared to the poachers armed with sophisticated assault rifles.

"First of all, the number of forest guards in Kaziranga is far less than what is actually required to protect the wildlife, then you have World War II weapons compared to AK series rifles and carbines used by the poachers," a senior forest guard working in Kaziranga for more than 15 years said.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering, A rhino horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million per kilogram in the international market after the horns are smuggled to clandestine Asian markets.

Once extracted, the rhino horn is routed to agents in places like Dimapur in Nagaland, Imphal in Manipur and Siliguri in West Bengal.

A possible route of rhino horn smuggling is to Kathmandu via Siliguri and then from Nepal to China and the Middle East. The other possible route is from Imphal to Moreh on the Manipur border with Myanmar and then via Myanmar to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.