Guwahati: Days after Assam's Kaziranga National Park hit the headlines following a spate in poaching of the one-horned rhinos, the Assam government has decided to rush a 100-member team of the elite Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) for the protection of the rare animal.
Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain on Tuesday said that a 50-member team of the AFPF had already been dispatched to the national park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. He added that another 50 personnel of the elite force would be sent to the park within this week.
Hussain confirmed that 39 rhinos had died in the state in 2012 because of floods and poaching.
Eleven rhinos were killed by poachers, including six inside the park and five in neighbouring Karbi Anglong district where the animals migrated because of floods. Another 28 rhinos drowned in the floods that hit the state this year.
The deaths of one-horned rhinos in Assam came to the forefront recently after suspected poachers killed seven rhinos last week in and around the park and chopped off their horns. At least two rhinos were alive when their horns were chopped off.
The spate in rhino killings had forced the Assam government to call for a CBI probe into the cases of poaching over the last three years. The government had announced that the army and central para military forces will be deployed in areas adjoining the national park to foil the attempts of poachers.
Hussain said that the rhino population had increased and they had been taken off the "endangered" list. "Due to better forest management and protection, the number of rhinos has risen to 2,505 in the state with 2,290 in Kaziranga alone," he said.
Hussain slammed allegations of opposition parties like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and said they were trying to rake up the issue of bad forest management.
He also refuted the charges levelled by the AGP and the BJP that the state government is helping illegal migrants to settle inside the buffer zone of the park to increase the Congress vote bank.
"In fact, the erstwhile AGP government under the leadership of then chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in 1996 had issued an order to settle 96 landless families in those areas," Hussain said.
He added that the forest department had been working with the Indian Air Force (IAF) to airlift a rhino, which had strayed into the Rani Chapori area after being washed downstream in the Brahmaputra river.
"Bad weather prevented the IAF chopper from lifting the animal. The IAF had tried to lift the animal on Monday," Hussain said, adding that the forest department is providing the rhino with food and a team of doctors is monitoring its health.