GUWAHATI A rhino horn was among several wildlife body parts recovered in a pre-dawn operation carried out by the forest and police officials in western Assam’s Baksa district on September 8.
Five people were arrested for possessing the animal body parts including a deer antler, an elephant tusk, and bones of different animals, officials said.
“The recovery and arrests were the outcome of proper tracking based on a major intelligence-based operation. All five were picked up from a house in Baksa district,” Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden, Sandeep Kumar told The Hindu.
“We suspect the seized rhino horn could have been extracted from one of two-three rhinos killed in Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve over the past few months. We are trying to ascertain if the arrested five were involved in poaching or they are dealers in banned wildlife items,” he said.
The 500 sq. km Manas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had about 100 resident rhinos prior to 1990, but a prolonged ethnopolitical conflict thereafter took a heavy toll with extremist groups known to have traded the horns of the herbivores for weapons.
This led to the park being downgraded to a ‘World Heritage Site in Danger’.
A rhino reintroduction programme under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 was started in 2006. The programme, a collaboration between the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India, entailed the translocation of rhinos from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.
Some rhino orphans, hand-reared at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at Kaziranga, were also translocated to Manas. During the last census in 2022, the rhino population in Manas was estimated at 40.
Poachers began striking in the grossly understaffed Manas a few months ago. This led to the replacement of Vaibhav C. Mathur by Rajen Choudhury as the national park’s field director.