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Brisk Business Of Rhino Horns In Dimapur

After having its horn cut off by poachers an Indian rhino slowly dies. Image Credit: Bibhab Talukdar of Aaranyak of Assam.

GUWAHATI: The commercial hub of Nagaland is doing brisk business by smuggling rhino horns to South-East Asian countries. From poachers to forest officials, all fingers unwaveringly point to Dimapur whenever somebody asks “What’s going on?”

The horns of majority of rhinos poached in Assam invariably land in Dimapur from where they head for the porous India-Myanmar border. From there, they are smuggled to Myanmar through the border town of Moreh in Manipur. Once in the Junta-ruled country, the valuable organ is transported to China, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries with consummate ease where it is used for making oriental medicines.

With no control over the trade, forest officials in Assam are fighting a losing battle against poachers. “Unless the international demand for rhino horns and criminal networks in Dimapur are taken care of, there’s very little that we can do to check poaching,” said a Kaziranga National Park official.

Rhinos in the state still remain vulnerable to poaching because of high demand, especially in China and Vietnam. Assam has almost two-third of world’s one-horned rhino population spread across Kaziranga, Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. According to an assessment by a wildlife crime watchdog, there are at least four parties involved in horn trade in Dimapur.

The region shares a 1,463-km international border with Myanmar and only 52 km of this stretch is manned by security forces. A poorly manned border, soaring demand for rhino horns in the grey market and proximity of Myanmar to South-East Asian countries have made Dimapur strategically important for carrying out the trade.

According to former poachers, rhino-hunters are mostly sharpshooters from Nagaland and Manipur. There are also some from Karbi Anglong district.

While sharpshooters gun down the pachyderms, locals guide the hunters through rhino-bearing areas. From killing a rhino to selling off horns in Dimapur, it entails a cost of at least Rs 3 lakh, said a former poacher.

Harmuj Ali, a poacher gunned down by Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park officials in 2009, was once caught with a rhino horn while he was on his way to Dimapur. Ali was shot dead while he was trying to kill a rhino in Orang.

Again, insurgency in Nagaland has veritably made arms available in the state. In most cases of rhino poaching, .303 rifles, a prohibited weapon, have been used. The sharpshooters have perfected their art to such an extent that even .303 rifles are conveniently modified with facilities to fit a silencer in it. Many such rifles seized from poachers in Kaziranga and Orang has been found to be fitted with silencers, which were locally made in Dimapur’s clandestine arms workshops. “.303 rifles are modified with such dexterity that even locally made silencers fit into them very well. Availability of arms has made poachers bolder to take risks by venturing into protected areas,” said a Kaziranga official.

*Reported by Naresh Mitra & Saumyadipta Chatterjee.

(Courtesy: TNN)

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