After AK-47 rifles, tranquilisers being used to poach rhinos
Four poachers were arrested in Assam on Thursday and tranquilser shots used to capture big cats were recovered
While Assam police is on a war footing against Rhino horn poachers with a series of arrests across the state, it seems that the poachers are devising new methods to poach the endangered one-horned rhinos found in Kaziranga National Park. While former rebels are turning to poaching of Rhinos with sophisticated AK series rifles, tranquilisers were recovered from four poachers who were arrested near Kaziranga on Thursday 8.
Acting on a tip-off, a special team comprising of cops from Diphu, the district headquarters of Karbi Anglong district and Bokakhat in Golaghat distirct near Kaziranga, raided several villages Wednesday night in the fringes of the Agaratoli range of the national park and arrested four hard-core rhino poachers Sishuram Pegu, Kartik Pegu, Rajesh Munda and Shibaram Pegu.
During the search operation, the cops recovered Ketamine Hydrochloride (also known as Aniket), a tranquiliser used for capturing the big cats like tiger and leopards. It is usually not used for rhinos, which the experts say, is the most difficult animal to be tranquilised. Poachers often use Etorphine Hydrochloride tranquilisers to capture rhinos. Moreover, the rebels also use Ketamine Hydrochloride injections as pain-killers for their injured group members.
“We are now looking at whether it was used in rhino poaching or whether it can be mixed with other chemicals and used as a powerful tranquiliser for rhinos or if there is a bigger plan to poach the big cats,” a senior police official who was part of the raid told TEHELKA over the phone. The cops have launched a massive search operation in the area for the guns which are required for shooting the tranquilisers. In 2007, the forest guards caught a group of poachers from Latabari near Kaziranga and recovered a tranquiliser gun.
Over 40 rhinos of Kaziranga have died this year and half of them have fallen prey to poaching. “We have increased anti-poaching drives. There are relentless patrols inside Kaziranga so rhino poachers are trying to devise new strategies. Since we have come across recent cases of poaching where gun shots were not heard, we are worried as to how the poachers are getting access to these tranquilisers” said director of Kaziranga National Park NK Basu.
On 13 October, poachers cut off the horn of a female rhino near Sohola Beel under Agaratoli Range of Kaziranga. It is speculated that the poachers first tranquilised the rhino and after sawing off its horn, they shot at it. Veterinarians tried to save the rhino for several days before it succumbed to its injuries. Thursday’s recovery has given teeth to this suspicion that poachers are now trying to tranquilise the rhinos and chop off its horn in tranquilised state instead of shooting it.
Earlier investigations have found that rebels from ethnic Karbi outfits of Assam and sharp shooters from Nagaland trained by Naga rebel groups have been involved in poaching of rhinos of Kaziranga using AK-47 rifles. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is investigating into it. Nearly 40 poachers have been arrested till now and one AK-47 rifle, eight .303 rifles and two double barrel rifles have been recovered.
Poachers have always tried to devise new ways of poaching the rhino for its horn which is considered to have medicinal value by traditional healers in South Asia, particularly in China. Earlier they have tried to poach rhinos by electrocution and pit hunting.
The Assam government ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into all incidents of rhino poaching in the state in the last three years. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has also sought help from the Army in the hills of Karbi Anglong adjacent to the Kaziranga National Park areas to flush out rebels who are also minting money and buying sophisticated arms out of rhino poaching. A team of CBI officials has reached Diphu on Thursday to start investigation in this case.
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.