Yet another rhino was gunned down by poachers at Kaziranga National Park, about 250km from here, on Sunday night. Poachers have been killing rhinos in the state with impunity. With the latest killing, the rhino casualties due to poaching have risen to 25 in 11 months this year at Kaziranga, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Sunday killing was the second poaching incident in Kaziranga this month.
Altogether the state has lost 34 rhinos to poachers this year, including in Kaziranga, Manas National Park, Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.
Park officials said a full-grown male rhino was shot down with an automatic rifle and its horn chopped off around 300 metres away from Borgola anti-poaching camp under Burapahar forest range of the park at 12.55 am on Monday.
Though forest officials reacted promptly on hearing the gunshots and engaged the killers in an exchange of fires for more than an hour, it came to naught with poachers managing to escape under the cover of darkness.
"The poachers managed to hack the rhinos horn during the gunfight. They were armed with automatic rifles, an indication that militants from the neighbouring Karbi Anglong district might have sneaked into the park and killed the rhino," a park official said.
State forest and environment minister Rockybul Hussain said the Karbi Anglong police have informed him about the involvement of the Karbi People's Liberation Tiger (KPLT), an armed outfit active in Karbi Anglong, in the latest poaching incident at Kaziranga.
Hussain said he is in constant touch with police officials about a joint operation with forest officials against poachers following intelligence inputs that a gang of KPLT cadres led by Dandi Kamsa were active in areas close to the park.
The minister also said that two battalions of the Assam Forest Protection Force have been deployed to guard the Brahmaputra riverfront and areas bordering the Karbi Anglong district.