“Money plays a big role in elections in the Northeast, where most constituencies have a few thousand electors and are thus manageable. So far, we don’t have any evidence of elections being funded by illegal trade of animal body parts, but the figures point to rhino poaching increasing in the 12-15 months before elections,” a colonel-rank officer said.
According to records with the Assam forest department, poachers killed 21 rhinos in 2000 and 2001 and an identical number in 2005 and 2006. The casualty rose to 31 in 2007 and 2008. Till December 10 this year, 21 rhinos have been killed.
Assembly elections in Assam were held in 2001 and 2006 and in adjoining Nagaland in 2008. Assembly elections in Nagaland are scheduled next year. Non-election years saw fewer rhinos being killed — for instance, six in 2003 and five in 2004.
Most incidents of poaching, particularly in Kaziranga National Park, have a Nagaland connection. Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial hub, is a major transit market for rhino horns. An average rhino horn weighs 750gm and is reportedly sold for Rs.25-60 lakh in Dimapur, prior to being smuggled out to China, Southeast Asia and West Asia.