By Naresh Mitra
Assam's ambitious Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 took a severe hit after a conservation volunteer engaged in the project was allegedly found to be involved in the poaching of a rhino at Manas National Park last week.
IRV 2020, a joint project of the Assam forest department, WWF-India and International Rhino Foundation (IRF), and supported by the Bodoland Territorial Council and US Fish and Wildlife Service, was launched in 2008 to repopulate Manas with one-horned rhinos as the species was almost wiped out from the park by poachers during the height of Bodo insurgency in the 1990s. Under the project, rhinos from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary were translocated to Manas.
The sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) of Salbari in Baksa district, Rupam Phukon, said that Hongalla alias Munindra Basumatary is the prime suspect in the August 6 rhino poaching case. Hongalla is absconding at present.
"Our search for Hongalla is on. We have arrested his elder brother, Lakshman Basumatary, for possessing rhino meat, bones, teeth and hide. We have also arrested another suspect, Sukhram Swargiary, in connection with the poaching incident," Phukon said.
A senior forest official said Hongalla was engaged in the project as a local volunteer and circumstantial evidence pointed the needle of suspicion towards him. The rhino that was killed on August 6 was brought to Manas from Kaziranga in March last year. "Hongalla was absent from duty for almost a week before August 6. But he arrived on the day post-mortem was conducted on the carcass," the official added.
Forest department and police raided Lakshman's house at Daoraibari village near the park on Saturday. "During the raid, rhino meat, bones, teeth and dried hide of a rhino poached in January this year were recovered from Lakshman's house. During interrogation, Lakshman revealed that Hongalla was involved in the August 6 poaching. Based on intelligence inputs, we raided another location nearby on Sunday, but couldn't get hold of Hongalla," the official said. More....