Conservation news

Three rhinos killed in 48 hours in India’s Kaziranga National Park

A greater one-horned rhino in Assam State's Kaziranga National Park. Photo by Udayan Dasgupta for Mongabay.

  • An adult female rhino was killed by poachers Nov. 2, and a female and her calf Nov. 4, in Kaziranga National Park.
  • Kaziranga, which is home to the world’s largest population of greater one-horned rhinoceros, had previously only lost two rhinos to poachers in 2017.
  • State officials have vowed to provide park guards with more sophisticated arms, while park authorities cite the need to more surveillance inside the park’s difficult terrain.

ASSAM STATE, India — Poachers in two separate incidents last week gunned down three greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) — two adult females and a calf — in India’s Kaziranga National Park, crudely removing the animals’ horns and leaving them for dead.

“On Thursday midnight forest personnel reported hearing gunshots and a search operation was immediately launched,” Divisional Forest Officer Rohini Ballav Saikia told Mongabay on Nov. 5. “We found the dehorned carcass of an adult female rhino in an area under the jurisdiction of Tunikati anti-poaching camp in the park’s Burrapahar Range.”

The second incident, in which an adult female and her calf were shot dead, occurred in the same area late at night on Saturday, Nov. 4.

In both cases, poachers used AK-series weapons, signaling a worrying trend of poachers using increasingly sophisticated arms. “In Thursday’s incident, 27 empty cartridges of an AK-47 rifle were recovered near the bullet-riddled rhino carcass,” said Saikia.

Kaziranga is home to an estimated 2,500 greater one horned rhinos, the world’s largest population of the species. The incidents last week came at a time when the park was achieving noteworthy success in curbing poaching, with just two other rhinos lost to poachers so far in 2017. Saikia believes sustained surveillance, community confidence-building efforts and better weaponry for rangers was helping poaching incidents to plummet.

“With the loss of these three rhinos, the toll of poaching this year has risen to five,” the park official said.  By comparison, the park lost 18 rhinos to poachers in 2016.

Reacting to the loss of three rhinos within a week, Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma yesterday said in a local media interview that by mid-November forest officials will be provided with an array of more sophisticated weaponry in a bid to check poaching.

Difficult Terrain

Kaziranga’s marshlands and riverine habitats teem with life, but also make it easy for poachers to evade detection and capture. Photo by Shashank Gupta/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.

The Burrapahar Range, where last week’s poaching incidents took place, is flanked by the Karbi Anglong Hills in the south, while the Brahmaputra River and its numerous sand bars lie to the north. Moreover, a highway skirts the range, providing relatively easy access and safe hideouts for poachers seeking rhino horn, which commands high prices on the East Asian black market.

“Kaziranga’s topography to some extent makes it difficult to check poachers’ activities inside the park,” said Satyendra Singh, the park’s field director.

Furthermore, every year the Brahmaputra creates new sand bars and submerges some of the existing ones along the park’s northern border, making the topography dynamic and difficult to keep track of, said Singh.

Singh believes surveillance inside the park needs to be strengthened and borders fenced in order to keep poachers away from slipping into the park.

Banner image: A greater one-horned rhino in Assam State’s Kaziranga National Park. Photo by Udayan Dasgupta for Mongabay.

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