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Assam demands national investigation into rhino poaching in India

11/02/2013 09:55:46

Increasing rhino poaching in Assam has driven local organisations to demand a national investigation. Photo credit Wildlife Trust of India

Assam calls for probe into rhino poaching - Written by Nava Thakuria
February 2013. The Assam government in northeast India has asked for the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the rampant poaching of rhinoceros in various forest reserves of the tiny State. Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, has personally made this commitment recently, and the Assam government has written to the Union government in New Delhi requesting a high level probe.

2500 rhinos in Assam
Assam's forest reserves contain more than 2500 rare one-horned rhinoceros out of a world population of around 3000, and large quantities of other rare and important wildlife. Kaziranga National Park in central Assam is the hot-spot for the rhinos, but has suffered increasingly from poaching in the last year or two. The last 13 months seem to be worst as the park has lost around 50 rhinos to natural disasters and poachers. Poachers took away more than 25 rhino horns in this period after killing the animals.

The value of a single rhino horn in the international market has sky-rocketed; as many people in China and Vietnam mistakenly believe that the horn carries an aphrodisiac quality and is a cure for cancer. Rhino horn is made from keratin, the same substance in human hair.

Students' organizations, opposition political parties and various wildlife NGOs have organised street protests, crying fouls at the inability of the State forest department to protect the wildlife. On numerous occasions effigies of Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain have been burnt. Chief Minister Gogoi was also targeted by some angry citizens on different occasions for his callous attitude towards the issue.

Forest officials involved?
Nature's Beckon, an Assam NGO, alleges that few officials of the Assam Forest Department are involved in the rhino horn trafficking. Soumyadeep Dutta, director of Nature's Beckon, claimed that some corrupt forest officials were involved in the poaching of rhinos. He maintained his demand that the CBI should also probe the security of all the rhino horns preserved by the department after recovery.

Rhino horns stolen from government warehouses
"We suspect that most of the preserved rhino horns have been sold in the illegal market by the corrupt officials and those are being replaced with fake horns. So we demand a high level probe to investigate the authenticity of the horns," Dutta added.

The State opposition parties have criticized Gogoi for his ‘surrender' to the poachers. They were unanimous in their opinions that Gogoi was only trying his best to safeguard his forest minister.

The All Assam Students Union has been critical of the State forest department. The students' organizations have blocked the National Highway 37 adjacent to Kaziranga National Park several times to raise their voices against the wildlife poaching.

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