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Govt uses drones to protect Kaziranga rhinos from poachers

Millennium Post, New Delhi, 10th April, 2013

Wildlife authorities are using aerial drones to oversee a sprawling natural game park in Assam to protect the one-horned rhinoceros from armed poachers.

Security officers conducted flights of the unmanned aircraft over the Kaziranga National Park on Monday and will fly drones at regular intervals to prevent rampant poaching in the park in the remote area of Assam.

The drones are equipped with cameras and will be monitored by security guards, who find it difficult to guard the whole 480-square kilometre reserve.

‘Regular operations of the unmanned aerial vehicles will begin once we get the nod of the Indian defense ministry,’ said Rokybul Hussain, the state’s forest and environment minister.

The drones will also be useful during the annual monsoon season when large areas in the Kaziranga reserve are flooded by the mighty Brahmaputra River and three other rivers that flow through the game park, park officials said.

Hussain said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will soon begin investigations into the steep rise in rhino poaching this year.

Poachers armed with automatic rifles killed 22 rhinos last year, but have killed 16 rhinos already this year.

Rhino horn is in great demand in China and Southeast Asia where it is believed to have medicinal properties. A rhino census conducted in Kaziranga reserve two weeks ago put their number at 2,329, up from 2,290 in 2012.

In recent weeks, wildlife authorities in Assam have deployed 300 armed guards to protect the rhinos in Kaziranga but they have been no match for organized gangs of poachers who have been managing to strike at the rhinos with increasing regularity.

‘What worries us is the use of automatic weapons like Kalashnikovs by the poachers,’ said Assam police chief Jayanta Narayan Choudhury.

Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) registered three cases into the matter on Tuesday. Sources said that preliminary enquiry suggest that the body parts of the Rhinos may be illegally sent to Myanmar and China.  

A team of CBI sleuths will leave for the site on Wednesday where they will sought assistance of local police for manpower.  

Reports suggest that armed with automatic rifles poachers killed 22 rhinos last year, but the number have already reached 16 this year. These poaching took place during July and September in 2012.

Sources added the use of type-2 AK-47 rifle known as Kalashnikov is what has astonished the local police and the CBI. ‘What worries us is the use of automatic weapons like Kalashnikovs by the poachers,’ Assam police chief Jayanta Narayan Choudhury had said.

CBI sources said that use of firearms to kill Rhinos will also be probed extensively. ‘The local police has shared their inputs with us and use of such advanced weapons for poaching hints at a proper nexus active for poaching and involvement of some state officials is not ruled out,’ CBI sources added.