(Some images used in the article may be discomforting)
POACHING: The Orang National Park located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River in the Darrang and Sonitpur districts of Assam, India, had a distinguishing title till a fortnight ago. It was the only National Park in the North eastern state which could proudly display the tag ‘Zero-Poaching Protected Area’. But on 2nd November, the park lost the title and its first Rhino when poachers killed a male rhino for its horn. Sadly, two rhinos – a mother and a calf were killed again last Saturday, permanently scaring the reputation of the park and revealing yet again the ugly face of poaching to the world.
When India was celebrating the festival of lights – Diwali on 2nd November this year, one male rhino became a victim of poaching once again and this time in a protected area which proudly had the distinction of recording no poaching incident till date.
On the fateful night the rhino had ventured outside the park area 150 km away at Nichlabari area in Sonitpur district when poachers spotted it and killed the animal. The rhino’s horn was immediately chopped off. Because the villagers were busy bursting crackers park officers could not hear the gun shots fired by the poachers. It was only later that they found the empty cartridges.
“By the time we reached the spot, the poachers had already hacked its horn. We found three empty cartridges on the spot. The cartridges, however, seemed to belong to sophisticated firearms and not of .303 rifle usually used by the poachers to kill rhino,” a park official said.
While Assam has endangered One horned Rhino population in four of its protected areas– Kaziranga, Manas, Pobitro wildlife sanctuary and Orang, the last was the only one safe this year from any poaching activity. Spread in an area of 78.81 sqkm, Orang has an estimated population of 100 rhinos. In 2011 and 2012 poachers had managed to kill one, one rhino but not this year – until now.
Given the high level of security and the way the officers had defended the animal’s territory from greedy poachers, last month, an Orang range officer along with 11 other park officials received the Vanya Prani Mitra Award for 2013 from the state government. They were recognised for killing two poachers and foiling their rhino poaching attempt last year. In January this year, park officials also nabbed Ikramul Islam, a kingpin of the poaching gang, after he sneaked into the park.
“It’s indeed a sad event for us. This year, we successfully managed to make Orang poaching free till the Saturday incident. All our focus was on the park because we suspected that poachers might take advantage of the Diwali festivity to kill rhinos inside the protected area. Unfortunately, a rhino strayed and got killed outside the park. The sound of crackers made it difficult to hear the bullet sound,” the official said.
Two more Deaths
Poachers attacked again last Saturday 9th November and this time heinously took away the horn of a mother rhino after kill it and its baby. The incident occurred at Hajar Bigha area when the two had strayed out of the park ground in search of some fresh green grass.
“We heard the gunshots, but by the time we reached the spot, the poachers had already chopped off the horn of the mother rhino and made their escape from the spot. It’s very unfortunate that within the span of a week, three rhinos have been killed in the park despite increased anti-poaching patrolling,” a forest official said.
The rising poaching activities many believe, is due to the lack of green grass within the park boundaries, which is leading more rhinos outside protected territory.
“Rhino poachers are always on the prowl, looking for the slightest opportunity to kill the animal. Poaching was low in Orang at a time when it was on the rise in Kaziranga and Manas National Parks this year. The killing of three rhinos within a week indicates that threat is very active in Orang,” a wildlife crime expert said.
With three rhinos killed within a week, including one calf, it is clear that poachers are now on the prowl in Orang too chasing the high priced horn. While there is no scientific evidence that the powder of this horn indeed cures a number of ailments, demand for the rhino body part is still on the rise in South east Asia. Sadly, it is this one horn that is pushing the animals on the fast lane to extinction.
More Related Stories,
Image via cc/Flickr by David Whitney and IBNLive