The suspected involvement of militants in the latest rhino poaching incident at Manas National Park in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) has raised the spectre of the turbulent 1990s when the park's 100-odd rhinos were decimated by poachers during the height of insurgency and political turbulence. Miscreants had also burnt down anti-poaching camps then, prompting Unesco to label Manas a 'World Heritage Site in Danger'. Park officials suspected militants were involved in the latest killing as AK-47 bullets were recovered from the spot.
Wildlife crime experts did not rule out their involvement in previous poaching incidents at the park, which got back Unesco's World Heritage Site status in 2011 after a long conservation and restoration effort by the forest department, Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and NGOs.
On Tuesday, a gang of poachers gunned down the rhino, which had given birth to a calf in March last year, at Pharfuli area under the park's Bansbari range, bringing the number of rhino casualties due to poaching in Manas to five in 2013, and seven since 2011.
"We are really worried about rhino poaching as Manas has just started reviving. There is an urgent need for revitalizing the anti-poaching mechanism along with the intelligence network," a conservationist, who did not want to be named, said.
Since 2008, rhinos were introduced to the park under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park.
"It took a lot of time and money to reintroduce rhinos at Manas. Frequent incidents of rhino poaching will send a negative message to the national and international conservation community," another conservationist observed.