Guwahati: The death of 39 rhinos in and around the world-famous Kaziranga National Park, in less than 10 months, has brought to the fore the threat faced by the endangered animal.
The threat comes from poachers, who kill the rare one-horned rhinoceros for its prized horn. The price of these horns in the international market varies from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 90 lakh, and flood which is an annual occurrence in Assam.
Early last month, the poachers killed five rhinos in four days taking advantage of the flood waters that submerged 90 per cent of the UNESCO world heritage site.
The poachers in the most gruesome act removed the animals' horns and left them to bleed to death while the forest guards failed to have an inkling.
Coupled with the rampant poaching, blamed mostly on illegal Bangladeshi migrants while not ruling out the involvement of militants of the Karbi Peoples' Liberation Tigers, is the lack of adequate staff in the heritage sanctuary and equipment with the forest department.
The Kaziranga National Park boasts of a 2,290-strong rhino population as per the last census conducted this year.
Assam Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain confirmed the killing of 11 rhinos by poachers, including six inside the park, and five in the neighbouring Karbi Anglong district where the animals shifted to escape the flooded forest. He said that 28 other rhinos drowned in the floods during the year.
Official sources said that there were intelligence reports about the involvement of militants of the Karbi Peoples' Liberation Tigers in the poaching of rhinos and removal of their horns.
The sources said that in the 1988 flood 1,203 rhinos were killed while 10 years later 652 of them died in another wave of devastating flood.
"We feel the management of the forest department has failed to protect the rhinos during flood and there is lack of coordination between the department and the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council where many animals shift to escape being drowned," prominent conservation group 'Aaranyak' said.
Firoz Ahmed, an official of the NGO, alleged there had been a failure in intelligence gathering and a complete lack of prior planning to face the annual natural calamity on the part of the forest department.