The Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park lost the distinction of becoming the "zero-poaching" protected area in the state as the first incident of rhino poaching was reported this year on Saturday night.
A male rhino was killed by poachers who also chopped off its horn at Nichlabari area in Sonitpur district after the animal strayed out of the park, about 150 km from here. The bursting of crackers during the Diwali festivity had confused the park officials for prompt reaction.
"By the time we reached the spot, the poachers had already hacked its horn. We found three empty cartridges on the spot. The cartridges, however, seemed to belong to sophisticated firearms and not of .303 rifle usually used by the poachers to kill rhino," a park official said.
While Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary had already bore the brunt, the Saturday killing has, however, robbed Orang the distinction of becoming a "zero-poaching" protected area in the state.
There were several attempts of poaching at Orang in the past but were all foiled . Last month, an Orang range officer along with 11 other park officials received the Vanya Prani Mitra Award for 2013 from the state government for killing two poachers and foiling their rhino poaching attempt last year. In January this year, park officials nabbed Ikramul Islam, a kingpin of the poaching gang, after he sneaked into the park.
"It's indeed a sad event for us. This year, we successfully managed to make Orang poaching free till the Saturday incident. All our focus was on the park because we suspected that poachers might take advantage of the Diwali festivity to kill rhinos inside the protected area. Unfortunately, a rhino strayed and got killed outside the park. The sound of crackers made it difficult to hear the bullet sound," the official said.
Spread over 78.81 sqkm area, Orang has an estimated population of 100 rhinos. Both in 2012 and 2011, one each rhino was killed by poachers.