Skeletal Remains of Missing Rhino Found, Assam Forest Officials under Lens for Filing Wrong Report
For seven months till September 2018, the rhino was said to be under supervision of the forest department before it disappeared. The then DFO of Nagaon Wildlife Division had concluded that the rhino moved back to Orang National Park.
Guwahati: Days after being criticised for granting permission to transport four elephants from Assam to Gujarat under extreme weather conditions, forest department officials are under scanner again for allegedly suppressing the incident of a rhino death last year.
With the recovery of skeletal remains of a sub-adult female rhino near a forest camp under Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary on Monday, questions are being raised as to why the forest department submitted a report stating that the rhino had moved back into Orang National Park from where it had strayed in search of food.
“We found bones at a distance of 1km from Polastholi camp. Today, a search operation was conducted in the entire area. We have identified a few suspects and hope they are arrested soon,” said Ranjith Ram, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Nagaon.
“The report said footprints of the rhino were traced near the sandbars of the Brahmaputra and moving towards the Orang National Park. Maybe, those were old footprints or that of another rhino. We have also recovered a used bullet from the scene, which has been sent to the forensic department,” said Ram, adding that after officials found the footprints during field inspection, they must have stopped looking for the rhino.
The Laokhowa Wildlife Sanctuary falls under the Nagaon wildlife division, which is a part of the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve buffer area. For seven months till September 2018, the rhino was said to be under supervision of the forest department before it disappeared. The then DFO, Nagaon, Jitender Kumar, had concluded that the rhino moved back to Orang National Park.
“The rhino that strayed out of Orang National Park last year had first entered Thelamara town near Tezpur in Sonitpur district. A drive-out operation was undertaken to push back the rhino to Orang through Dhekiajuli and Singri hills. But after two days, it again strayed out and went to Dhing from where it reached Laokhowa via Juria in north of Nagaon town,” said P Sivakumar, Director of Kaziranga National Park.
A number of persons, including a casual labourer are being interrogated for their suspected involvement in the incident, Sivakumar said. A joint raid was carried out early on Wednesday by a team of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Nagaon forest division, and Orang park authorities.
Ram said the suspects in the nearest village were not present in their houses during the raid. A manhunt has since been launched to trace them with the help of Nagaon police. Sources said a section of villagers involved in illegal fishing in water bodies around the sanctuary could be involved in the poaching incident.
“There are a number of water bodies or beel in this park. When the rhino strayed into Laokhowa last year, fishing completely stopped as the forest staff constantly kept monitoring the rhino’s movement and were manning the area. The presence of the rhino and the foresters had disturbed the whole fishing business in this area,” the DFO said.
According to sources in forest department, the rhino was killed inside the protected area, where poaching had not been reported since 1983. In 2014, two cases were reported in north of Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sivakumar said rhinos often come to the Laokhowa-Burachapori park area during the monsoon season. In 2016, an area of 195 sqkm was declared as first addition to Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary to facilitate movement of stray rhinos.
(With inputs from Nilutpal Borah)
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