GUWAHATI: Following the recent killings of two rhinos at the Kaziranga National Park within a fortnight, Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma on Monday said that while it would not be possible to stop the killings completely, the fight against poachers would continue.
With the recent incidents, the number of rhinos killed in the park so far this year has risen to nine.
In fact, one of them was killed, and its horn sawed off and taken away even as the minister was attending a meeting at Kaziranga on June 7 with the police chiefs of the four districts adjoining the park, besides forest officials.
Brahma cited the lack of frontline staff as the main reason why the the incidents of poaching could not curbed by the department.
“The park doesn’t have the requisite number of staff. Also, several of them are not physically fit after they sustained injuries in face-offs with the animals. We have plans to replace them soon with others who are fit to take on the poachers.”
The poaching network was very big, straddling other states in the region, the minister added.
Rhino poaching was one of the ruling BJP’s main poll planks. In the lead-up-to the Assembly elections in April, the party had pilloried the then Congress government whenever a rhino was killed.
Recently, the police arrested Divisional Forest Officer Mahat Chandra Talukdar and seized crores of cash besides tiger and deer skin and ivory from his residence. As a forest officer, Talukdar had allegedly encouraged timber smuggling and other crimes related to wildlife as well.
The arrested officer later disclosed that he knew some poachers during his tenure in the park, making the police suspect his hand in poaching
Wildlife activists insist that poaching would not be possible without the connivance of senior forest officials.
“We have for long been saying that senior forest officials are involved in wildlife crimes. They are also involved in embezzlement of central funds allocated for wildlife protection. We demand that they be arrested,” said Soumyadeep Dutta who belongs to a wildlife conservation group.
Considered an aphrodisiac, a rhino horn could fetch as much as `1 crore from the international black market.