Less than 10 hours after British royal couple Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton took a jeep safari through Kaziranga and also visited the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) there, poachers gunned down one rhino in the national park and decamped with its horn on Thursday.
The royal couple in fact was in a lodge in Kaziranga, about 20 kms away from the spot when the incident took place. This is the sixth rhino killed by poachers in Kaziranga in the current year.
“One adult male rhino was killed near the Patahi Beel water-body under the Borghop anti-poaching camp in the Burrapahar range. The incident occurred at around 11:10 PM on Wednesday. Our forest guards who rushed to the spot on hearing of gunshots were engaged in an exchange of fire with the poachers, but the culprits managed to escape under the cover of darkness,” Kaziranga divisional forest officer Subhashis Das said.
Das also said that the forest guards later found as many as 105 empty cartridges of AK-47 weapons strewn all around the spot where the rhino was killed.
The Burrapahar range incidentally has seen the use of sophisticated AK-series weapons by poachers on most occasions in the past two or three years. In January a few discharged cartridges of M-4 carbine and Insas rifle were also found after an incident of rhino poaching in the same area.
Meanwhile sources said the discharged cartridges of AK-47 found in the spot where the rhino was killed in Wednesday night bore ordnance factory marks. “The weapons used by the poachers, who are suspected to be members of some armed underground group operating in the adjoining Karbi Anglong district, could have been among those snatched from security forces by rebel groups in the region from time to time,” the sources said.
With an area of over 800 sq kms (including about 378 sq kms of six additions that are still in the process integration), Kaziranga is home to over 2,400 one-horned rhinoceros. While the Assam government has been working with the idea of providing sophisticated weapons to its frontline forest protection staff to tackle the menace of poaching, the existing anti-poaching infrastructure was once again proved to be too inadequate on Wednesday. The government had deployed additional security in Kaziranga in the past few days in view of the British royal couple’s visit.
Rhino poaching in Kaziranga in fact had become a political issue in Assam in the past couple of years, and had found mention even in prime minister Narendra Modi’s speech when he had visited Bokakhat (Kaziranga’s nearest town) and addressed an election rally for the BJP-led alliance in just-concluded the Assam Assembly elections.