Guwahati : The continued poaching of rare one-horned rhinos in Assam has led the frontline student group, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), to seek a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and announce statewide protests.
The outcry follows the slaughtering by poachers of two rhinos, a mother and a calf, at the famed Kaziranga National Park, and two other rhinos at the Orang National Park last month. Poachers had earlier killed five rhinos at the 430 sq km Kaziranga reserve this year in separate incidents.
“We reiterate our demand for a CBI probe into rhino poaching and have decided to stage protest demonstrations in front of forest and wildlife offices across Assam against the menace of the killing of rhinos,” Sankar Prasad Roy, president of the influential AASU group, said.
AASU, the state’s largest student organisation, has launched a campaign to create awareness against rhino poaching and has blamed the government for failing to prevent the slaughter of this endangered animal.
“Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain has failed miserably in taking steps to protect the rhinos and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has chosen to be a mute spectator,” Roy said.
The Assam government on its part had ordered a high-level probe Tuesday, a day after organised poacher gangs slaughtered two rhinos at Kaziranga and had decamped with their horns.
Forest Minister Hussain said a nine-member team has been constituted to investigate recent incidents of poaching. The team would go into details and submit a report shortly for effective measures to combat poaching.
“We have decided to appoint four forest rangers at Kaziranga, besides rushing additional armed home guards to Orang,” the minister said earlier this week.
As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world’s estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the grasslands of Kaziranga – their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.
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 organised poachers in Kaziranga – the highest being 48 in 1992.
There was a reduction between 1998 and 2006 with 47 killed – the decrease attributed to intensive protection mechanisms and a better intelligence network, coupled with support from villagers living on the periphery of the park.
Organised 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 ($38,000) per kg in the international market.
Once extracted, 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 places like Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.