By Wasbir Hussain
Wildlife rangers in remote northeastern India shot three suspected poachers dead in a gunbattle Wednesday morning in a famed rhino reserve.
It was the second recent case of violence in Kaziranga National Park, where three other poachers have been shot dead in the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, the rangers had received a tip and "were lying in wait at three locations inside the park," National Park Director M.K. Yadava said.
They spotted four armed poachers, and a shootout erupted with three of the poachers killed and one escaping, Yadava said. The rangers later recovered two rifles and a pistol from the dead poachers.
The park, which spans some 430 square kilometers (166 square miles) along the Brahmaputra River in the northeastern state of Assam, is known for having the world's largest number — at 2,329 — of endangered one-horned rhinoceros.
Illegal hunters, lured by black market demand for rhino horns, have already killed four of Kaziranga's rhinos this year after killing 27 last year. Experts say the poachers can make up to $113,000 by selling a single rhino horn, which are wanted in countries like China, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries where many people believe exotic animal parts have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties. In most cases, there is no scientific evidence that they do.
Yadava said India's army was also helping rangers by sharing intelligence on poacher movements.
Poaching has also become a political issue in Assam, with the state government under pressure to check the menace.
"If rhino poaching cannot be controlled this year, we may have to fare badly in the state elections next year," said Himanta Biswa Sharma, a leader in the Congress party, which runs the state.