Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam reported its first rhino poaching case in a year after authorities found a full grown male carcass with its horn missing on Saturday evening.
“We found the carcass at 5.30 pm near Duamari beel which falls under the Eastern Range Agoratoli range of the park,” P Sivakumar, Director of KNP, said, confirming that this was the first case of poaching after a gap of 13 months.
“The last poaching case was reported on April 1, 2019, in Gohpur side of Biswanath division,” Sivakumar said.
According to authorities, the park reported three cases of rhino poaching in 2019, a significant drop from preceding years.
Several cases of rhino poaching were reoorted in the years leading up to 2013. The highest figures in a decade were in 2013 and 2014, with 27 incidents in each year. The figure decreased to 17 in 2015 and 18 in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, there were six incidents while 2019 reported three incidents. Saturday’s case is the first one in 2020.
According to Sivakumar, the rhino is suspected to have been killed two or three days before. “We recovered eight rounds of empty cartridges of AK-47,” he said. “We are investigating and we should get a clearer picture soon.”
Conservationist and authority on Asian rhinos, Bibhab Talukdar said the presence of AK-47 cartridges suggested that it was a well-organised crime. “This was well-planned by people who have high, sophisticated arms and ammunition,” he said, adding that Buddha Purnima festival, marked by a full moon day, is when poachers are traditionally most active.
According to Sivakumar, there has been an increase in poaching attempts during the nationwide lockdown. “While rhino poaching happens through the year in Kaziranga, the lockdown has witnessed an increased number of attempts and movement, even though some efforts have been foiled,” he said. Earlier in April, there was a firing in the Panbari area, and before that in the Gohpur area.
Talukdar agreed, referring to an incident in Kamargaon Police Station where locals caught a rhino poacher from Arunachal Pradesh and handed over the accused to the police last month. “He had arms and ammunition with him. The question is how did he come from Arunachal Pradesh during the lockdown,” said Talukdar, adding that there was an increase in illegal wildlife activities (hunting, logging) in the Manas National Park as well. “[Wildlife] criminals are taking full advantage of the situation.”
Since July 1, 2019, 82 constables — 74 men and eight women— of the first-ever batch of a “Special Rhino Protection Force” (SRPF) were deployed in various parts of UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was the first time a dedicated force was raised to keep a check on rhino poaching and related activities at KNP. A March 2018 rhino census in KNP pegged the rhino population at 2,413.