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Experts baffled as poachers take away horn without killing rhino


GUWAHATI: Forest officials and experts in Assam are baffled that the poachers managed to saw off the horn of a sub-adult rhino but without killing it.

The incident came to light two days ago when the animal was found moving about a marshland of the Orang National Park with a bleeding nose.

While there is no dispute that the highly-protected Schedule 1 animal was made unconscious, nobody has a definite answer to how the poachers managed to do it. This is the first such case in the country and alarming. The forest department is probing the incident.

Usually, the poachers use firearms to kill the rhinos before hacking off or sawing off the horn but the operation is risky as the forest guards get alerted by the sound of gunshots.

Well-known veterinarian Dr Kushal Konwar Sharma, who tranquilised several rhinos himself, ruled out that the animal was tranquilised by following the conventional method.

"There is only one source in South Africa which manufactures the drug to tranquilise rhinos. But in order to buy it, we need to go through a number of ministries and government agencies. So, I feel it is 99.9% impossible that people who are not in government can buy it," Sharma, a Padma Shri, told The New Indian Express.

Secondly, he said, it is extremely difficult to tranquilise a rhino, for it is aggressive. "We go on elephant top for tranquilisation but are still chased by the animal. I have conducted on-foot tranquilisation too but with all the facilities that we have at our disposal," Sharma said.

He ruled out leakage from the Guwahati zoo, the only place in the Northeast where the drug is kept.

"The drug is kept in a locker in the safe custody of the zoo director. The director is answerable to the central government for every dose used,” Sharma said.

The other states in the Northeast do not have this drug, for they do not have the rhinos. One cannot use the drug meant for tranquilising elephants or other animals to tranquilise a rhino, the vet explained.

He said it would be very difficult to conclude how the rhino was tamed. According to him, there could be various possibilities with one being electric shock.

There is another theory doing the rounds that the poachers had mixed certain medicine or chemical with grass or water but Sharma dismissed it as “wild guess”.

"An enquiry will be conducted, so let's wait for the report although I am not sure if it can unravel the truth," he added.

Considered an aphrodisiac, the rhino horn is in high  demand in the Southeast Asian countries. A single horn could fetch Rs 5 crore from the international black market.