Two more poachers were killed in Assam by forest department guards on Monday night amid an ongoing debate on the stringent measures adopted to prevent poaching of endangered species in the country.
The latest incident happened at Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park (RGONP), located 150km west from state capital Guwahati, following an exchange of gunfire between forest guards and a group of poachers.
According to forest department officials, a team of guards were on routine patrol when they came face to face with a group of poachers around midnight near the Baghmari forest camp. The department claims the poachers fired at the guards first following which there was a heavy exchange of gunfire in which the two poachers got killed.
“The identities of the poachers, who were armed with 303 rifles, are yet to be ascertained. But from their facial features, they appear to be from outside the state,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Bikash Brahma told Hindustan Times.
Spread over 78 square kilometres, RGONP has nearly 100 one horned rhinos, which are prized for the so-called medicinal value of their horns and routinely targeted by poachers. Their horns fetch an extremely high price in the international market.
Kaziranga National Park, which has over 2400 rhinos (the highest concentration of the species in the world), is the prime target of poachers. But other parks and sanctuaries are also vulnerable.
“Since patrolling and other anti-poaching activities have increased in Kaziranga, poachers have may have been trying to target rhinos in RNONP,” Brahma said.
Survival International, an NGO working for rights of tribal people, had last month urged 131 tour operators in 10 countries to boycott Kaziranga “till the park stops shooting people on sight”.
The call had come after the BBC aired a documentary ‘Killing for Conservation’ in February which tried to portray that forest guards in the park had been given license to kill people who appear to be a threat to wildlife.
The Union government has barred the BBC from filming in forest areas of India for a period of 5 years following recommendations of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which accused the organisation of “breach of trust” and “portraying of conservation efforts in India in extremely negative light”.
Between 2005 and 2015, 127 rhinos were killed by poachers in the state. Sixty-seven poachers were killed by forest guards in anti-poaching activities during the same period.