Army to be deployed in Karbi Anglong hills; Centre takes serious view of situation

Two more rhinoceroses were shot at by poachers in the Kaziranga National Park on Thursday in two separate incidents. These took place in Karbi Anglong district, one near Kuthori around 4.15 a.m. and the other around 12.30 p.m. in the Jagadamba tea estate. The poachers took away the horns of the rhinos.

In the first incident the rhino was found dead, while in the second, the victim was found battling for life, bleeding and writhing in pain. Both mammals had strayed out of flooded areas of the national park, which is also a World Heritage Site, and were moving in the foothills outside the notified area of the park.

Following these two incidents, which occurred a day after poachers shot at a female rhino and made off with its horn, the Assam government ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into all incidents of rhino poaching in the State in the last three years. The government has also decided to deploy the Army in the hills of Karbi Anglong adjacent to the Kaziranga National Park areas, as it suspects militants could also be involved in poaching.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered the CBI probe and announced a cash award of Rs. 5-lakh to anyone who gave information on poachers.

Environment and Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said a team of veterinary and wildlife experts was attending on the two injured rhinos.

Among other measures aimed at curbing poaching were elevation of the post of director of the Kaziranga National Park to Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) rank from the existing rank of Conservator. N.K. Vasu, an IFS officer, was appointed new director of the park. He earlier served as director of the park when he was a conservator.

The Minister said the strength of the front line staff in the park had now increased to 562; 11 sections of the Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) are now deployed there. Besides, 34 new appointments in Forester grade I and 64 forest guards will take place soon. The Environment and Forests Department is also procuring 200 SLRs as part of its plans to equip the AFPF personnel with modern and sophisticated weapons.

Since January, 15 poachers have been apprehended. In 2011, three poachers were killed in an encounter with forest guards, while nine others were arrested and five weapons seized. In 2010, nine poachers were killed and 15 arrested.

Meanwhile, a protest rally was taken up by activists and supporters of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and several other organisations in Kaziranga and other places. They demanded the resignation of Mr. Hussain for failing to protect the rhinos.

Priscilla Jebaraj reports from New Delhi:

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has ordered an immediate investigation by a team of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau into the incidents of poaching of rhinos which are fleeing the flooded areas of Kaziranga. She said the investigation should be completed in a week, and the perpetrators brought to justice. Ms. Natarajan has also written to Mr. Gogoi seeking all assistance in this regard and to prevent future incidents.

The team comprises C. Behra, Regional Deputy Director, Eastern Region, Kolkata; A.K. Jha, Assistant Director (Intelligence), BHO, Delhi; L. Kuruvilla, Assistant Director, Southern Region, Chennai; and K.K. Sarma, Wildlife Inspector, Northern Region, Delhi.