Stung by opposition parties’ criticism following deaths of rare one-horned rhinos in the Kaziranga National park, a world heritage site, the Assam government on Tuesday decided to rush a 100-member team of the elite Assam Forest Protection Force for its protection.

“A 50-member AFPF team has already left today while another 50 members will be despatched before October six,” Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told reporters here.

Confirming that 39 rhinos were killed —— 11 by poachers and 28 due to flood —— this year, he said the rhino population had increased in Kaziranga tremendously for which the “endangered” tag have been officially removed for them.

However, Mr. Hussain said the number of rhinos have risen to 2505 in the state at present and 2290 in Kaziranga alone because of better forest management.

“The AGP and BJP are raking up the issue of bad forest management which will harm the prestige of the park which is a pride for the people of Assam,” Mr. Hussain said.

He denied charges of AGP and BJP that illegal migrants are being helped by the government to settle inside the buffer zone of the park to increase the Congress’ vote bank.

“In fact, the AGP government under Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in 1996 had issued an order to settle 96 landless families in those areas,” the forest minister claimed.

Stating that a CBI team is camping in the KNP to probe into the killing of animals, Mr. Hussain said six .303 rifles and 73 ammunition have been seized while three poachers were killed by forest guards and 14 arrested this year.

On the rhino which strayed to Rani Chapori beel after being washed away, Mr. Hussain said he visited the spot today but bad weather prevented the IAF chopper from airlifting the animal which is in good health.

It would be airlifted to safety soon, he said.