KAZIRANGA/NUMALIGARH, Dec 22: Two endangered one-horned rhinos were killed by poacher gangs at the famed Kaziranga National Park, taking the toll of the giant pachyderms slaughtered so far this year to 14, officials said on Tuesday.
A wildlife official said the latest killings were reported on Monday from inside the sanctuary. “The two rhinos were killed using automatic weapons in separate locations and their horns gouged out. It could be the same poacher gang involved in both the attacks,” a park ranger told IANS.
Both killed were adult rhinos — a male and a female.
“We are indeed worried by the spurt in incidents of rhino poaching inside Kaziranga,” the park official said, requesting anonymity.
Last year, 18 rhinos were killed by poachers, the first time in a decade that the number of rhinos killed in a year in the park touched a double digit figure.
Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by poachers in Kaziranga - the highest being 48 in 1992.
As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 one-horned rhinos lumber around the wilds 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 - rhino horn sells for up to Rs 1.5 million per kilogram in the international market after they are smuggled to China or sold in other 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.
The route for rhino horn smuggling is an interesting one - a possible route 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 countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China. THE SENTINEL