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From Assam to China, a ‘phantom’ rules the rhino horn trade

A seized rhino horn. Photo: Special Arrangement

A seized rhino horn. Photo: Special Arrangement  

A new book on trafficking describes ruthless Myanmarese cartels

Terrestrial links between Assam and China through Myanmar and the Eastern Himalayas have come at a high price. More than 1,100 Americans died carving the 1,726 km Stilwell Road through treacherous hills from eastern Assam’s Ledo to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province during the Second World War, after Yangon (then Rangoon) fell to the Japanese.

The road that took two years and $150 million for U.S. Army General Joseph Stilwell to build, however, barely served its purpose of sending supplies to China, and fell into disuse soon after the end of the war.

Stilwell Road fell into disuse after 39,000 tonnes of supplies were moved in November 1944. But more than 500 one-horned rhinos of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) have died in the last 70 years to maintain the terrestrial link between Assam and China, albeit via a different route.

Complex trail

Mandalay, a book in Assamese, produced by the Guwahati-based Nanda Talukdar Foundation and supported by Gauhati University’s Centre for South East Asian Studies, has traced rhino horn trade from Nagaland and Manipur in India to China via the Stilwell Road.

The book draws on years of investigations by two officers on the frontline of rhino conservation — Deben Bora, officer-in-charge of the Jakhalabandha police station near KNP’s Burapahar Range, and Pranjal Baruah, range officer of the park’s Northern Range (now upgraded to a division) across the Brahmaputra river — and reflects their passion for protecting the endangered animals “at any cost”.

From Assam to China, a ‘phantom’ rules the rhino horn trade

Interrogations of dozens of poachers over the past decade have led the police and forest officers to a mysterious person, called Lampu. “We are not sure if he exists, or is an alias of someone who heads an international crime syndicate. But we know he operates from Myanmar,” Mr. Bora told The Hindu.

Lampu’s real name, photo and location are not available with any investigating agency. “He is a shadowy figure, a phantom who controls the rhino horn trade somewhere between Kalay and Mandalay in Myanmar,” said Mrinal Talukdar, the author.

Mr. Talukdar travelled through Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam for close to three years for his extensive research into the dangerous trade.

Extremists involved

His study and investigations by anti-poaching units revealed that the complex Myanmar cartel operates through two networks — one in Nagaland and the other in Manipur — with members of extremist groups calling the shots.

“The Manipur network operates through terrorists, who use assault rifles such as AK-47 and M4. Members camp on the Anjukmani Hills in (Assam’s) Karbi Anglong district south of Kaziranga, come down to the jungle for a kill, return to the camp with one or more horns, lie low for weeks or months before slipping out of Assam,” Mr. Talukdar said, describing the modus operandi.

The Nagaland network, on the other hand, relies on .303 rifles. Almost all Naga poachers belong to the Sema or Sumi tribe, recruit Assam’s Karbi tribal people to supply arms while local Muslims near the KNP are hired as scouts to locate rhinos. The Naga shooters do not camp but come, kill and move out, the book reveals.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 2:15:15 PM |

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