CBI team reaches Kaziranga to probe rhino poaching

Guwahati, April 17 (IANS) A seven-member CBI team has arrived in Assam to probe the poaching of rhinos, an official said Wednesday.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team is camping at the Kohora range of Kaziranga National Park to collect details of selected poaching cases that will initially be taken up for investigation, sources said.

The agency has registered three cases related to poaching of rhinos that took place in July and September last year in Assam’s Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts.

It was alleged that in all the three cases, one-horned rhinos were killed using firearms, and body parts of the animals were taken away.

These cases were initially registered by Assam Police against unknown persons under various sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and under the Arms Act, 1959, sources said.

Last year, the Assam government had approached the central government requesting a CBI probe into cases of rhino poaching, after an unprecedented spate of poaching cases were reported since July 2012.

Director of the Kaziranga National Park N.K Vasu confirmed that the CBI team had arrived, and that forest department and park authorities were cooperating with the investigators.

According to official records, a total of 18 rhinos were poached in and around the famous national park of Assam last year.

Out of the 18 rhinos poached, 11 were killed by poachers inside the Kaziranga National Park while seven others were killed in adjacent areas in Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts.

Similarly, a total of 17 rhinos have already been killed in Assam since January this year. Of these, 10 were killed inside Kaziranga National Park. Three were killed in adjacent areas. Four rhinos were killed in other districts of the state this year.

The state government has stepped up vigil after the sudden spate of poaching cases last year. A new battalion – Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) – armed with automatic weapons has been set up, and infrastructure is being developed inside Kaziranga to ensure the protection of the rhinos.

While efforts are on to install electronic eye towers inside the national parks, the state government had recently carried out test flying of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the Kaziranga National Park for better aerial surveillance 430 sq km park.

The test flying of UAV is carried out as a prelude to the deployment of the drones, a proposal for which awaits the defence ministry’s approval.

Despite the poaching concerns, Kaziranga is hailed as a successful conservation effort. From 12 rhinos a century ago, at last count a month ago, their number stood at 2,329.

Poaching cases have increased as ground rhino tusks are believed to cure many ailments, including cancer, and a single horn could fetch up to Rs.5 million.

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