Rhino killed before protest

Jorhat, Feb. 17: Poachers have preyed on yet another Kaziranga rhino, the horn-shorn carcass of which was recovered from the Bagori range of the national park this morning. This was the ninth rhino killed in the state this year and the seventh in Kaziranga.

Forest officials said the male rhino's carcass was recovered near the Kaoimari forest camp in the Bagori range of the park. Empty .303 rifle cartridges were also recovered from the site.

Sources said a search operation was launched last night after forest personnel heard gunshots but the poachers or the carcass could not be located because of darkness. "The carcass of the horn-less rhino was recovered early this morning," a forest official said.

He said operations were on to apprehend the poachers and that sniffer dogs had been pressed into service. "We are also using elephants to scan the national park."

The official said the search operation had forced the poachers to act fast. "The poachers fled in a hurry but managed to take the horn away," he said.

Kaziranga director N.K. Vasu said two .303 rifles were recovered from the north bank today. "The poachers escaped through the north bank after crossing the Brahmaputra and abandoned the two rifles on a sapori at Biswanath Chariali," he said.

Biswanath Chariali is a part of the sixth addition of the national park. The two rifles were hidden in the dense foliage near the riverbank.

The incident coincided with "the great save rhino walkathon" organised by Kaziranga University here today to create awareness against the rampant killing of rhinos. The event saw participation by hundreds of people, including civil society members, the army, CRPF and Assam Rifles jawans and even police personnel. A huge crowd gathered along the road to cheer the walkers and many followed them holding "Save Rhino" banners and posters.

The 20km walk started from the Jorhat District Sports Association ground to the university campus on the outskirts of the town.

Duleswar Gogoi, an ex-army man from Digboi, won the event by covering the distance in 1 hour and 49 minutes. The university authorities announced that it would be made an annual event.

On the other hand, today's incident resulted in a tiff between the Kaziranga authorities and several organisations, including AASU and the local media, as the park authorities allegedly declined to share details of the incident.

AASU activists and journalists protested in front of the Bagori range office after newspersons were allegedly barred from entering the park to cover the incident.

The state government, which has been drawing flak over the rise in rhino poaching in recent times, has already sought a CBI probe into the phenomenon. The horn of the rhino, which is considered an aphrodisiac, is in great demand in several countries around the world.