Assam proposes laws to combat rhino poaching

Times of India , Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Correspondent : Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI: The Assam government has proposed tough laws including a 10-year prison term to tackle the menace of rhino poaching, officials said on Tuesday. "Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has proposed an increase in the prison term for poachers from three to 10 years and doubling the quantum of fine on poachers to Rs 50,000," a senior Assam wildlife department official said, requesting anonymity. On Monday, Chief Minister Gogoi met with state Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain and senior wildlife officials to take stock of the situation arising out of the recent killing of rhinos for their horns in Kaziranga and Orang National Parks. The move will require an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act and the state's plan can be put into operation only after appropriate amendments. In case the amendment comes through, a poacher will be tried by a court not below that of a sessions judge. There has been uproar in Assam over the continued poaching of rare one-horned rhinos with the All Assam Students' Union (AASU), a frontline student group, seeking a probe by the country's apex investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The state government has since asked the CBI to investigate. At least 10 rhinos have been killed for their horns by poachers in Kaziranga and elsewhere in Assam this year. As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the world's estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the wilds of Kaziranga - their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching. Last year, 18 rhinos were killed by poachers, the first time in a decade that the number of rhinos killed in a year in the park touched a double digit figure. Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by organised poachers in the wilds of Kaziranga - the highest being 48 in 1992. There was a reduction in the numbers between 1998 and 2006 with just 47 killed - the decrease attributed to intensive protection mechanisms and a better intelligence network, coupled with support from local villagers living on the periphery of the park. Organised poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia. Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items. Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering - rhino horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million ($38,000) per kilogram in the international market. Once extracted, the rhino horn is routed to agents in places like Dimapur in Nagaland, Imphal in Manipur and Siliguri in West Bengal. The route for rhino horn smuggling is an interesting one - a possible route is to Kathmandu via Siliguri and then to China and the Middle East. The other possible route is from Imphal to Moreh on the Manipur border with Myanmar and then via Myanmar to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.
SOURCE : Times of India, Wednesday, 14 May 2008

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