Two poachers shot dead in Kaziranga

Guwahati: Two rhino poachers were killed in a gun fight with wildlife rangers at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam on Monday, officials said.

A wildlife warden said a group of four to six poachers entered the park early Monday and were waiting for a rhino herd near the Agoratoli range.

"A team of forest guards chased the poachers and soon there was a gun fight between the two sides," he said.

The firefight continued for about 30 minutes, killing two poachers.

"A massive hunt is on with forest guards looking for the other members of the group," the warden said.

A rifle, a large quantity of ammunition, jungle boots, food and raincoats were also recovered, he added.

This is the second major success of forest rangers this year. Four rhino poachers were killed and seven arrested in May.

"We are happy with the way our forest guards are fighting an organised poaching syndicate active in the park. We cannot ignore the help from local villagers living on the periphery of the park in our fight against poachers," Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told a news agency.

The 430 sq km park is home to the world's largest concentration of one-horned rhinos. 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.

Nine beasts were killed so far this year, while 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.

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 horns are 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.

A rhino horn sells for up to Rs 1.5 million per kilogram in the international market, according to officials of the forest department.