Assam: Mahouts, social workers in rhino horn smuggling net (India)

Indian Rhino female with offspring, Kaziranga National Park. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Times of India | September 28, 2020

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JORHAT: Two forest staffers of Kaziranga National Park and three social workers associated with various wildlife protection and conservation activities in the national park, who had been arrested earlier, have now confessed to their involvement in rhino horn smuggling.

Sources said that according to their confession they have been involved with the illegal trade since 2018. A total of 10 people have been arrested in the past three days for their involvement with rhino horn smuggling.

They were produced in court that allowed the park authorities to take them to their custody for three days till Monday. The two forest staffers were identified as Habibur Rahman and Ashok Bhuyan. Both are working as mahout (elephant rider) at the park’s Kohora forest range.

The three social workers were identified as Rameswar Signar, Hariram Ingti and Biman Taro. The trio are permanent residents of Ingley Pathar village in Karbi Anglong district close to the Kaziranga National Park boundary.

Talking to TOI, divisional forest officer (Kaziranga) Ramesh Gogoi said, “The five arrested persons have confessed to their involvement in rhino horn smuggling. They had handed over the rhino horn to a person in Diphu, who subsequently handed over the same to another smuggler in Nagaland. Our investigation is on to recover the horn and to bust the racket.”

Gogoi added, “Hobibur and Ashok were working as mahouts in Kaziranga. They said that they found a rhino horn inside the park’s Kohora forest range while they were riding elephants during patrolling after the recent wave of floods in Kaziranga. They handed over the rhino horn to the trio to sell it in Nagaland.”

Gogoi further said, “Among the three other arrested persons, Rameswar is a renowned social worker in Karbi Anglong and he has a very good relationship with the forest staff in Kaziranga. He helps Kaziranga forest staffs by providing shelter for man and elephants on duty in his residential campus during floods. Hariram and Biman are also renowned social workers in Karbi Anglong and they were associated with almost all the programmes organized for conservation of wild lives in Kaziranga.”

The five accused persons are in the custody of Kaziranga forest staffers and interrogation is on. “We believe they will reveal more information on the rhino horn smuggling as they confessed that they have involved with the trade since 2018,” Gogoi said adding that during floods, forest staffers found rhino carcasses. Sometimes horns were found intact while on other occasions they were found missing. After receding of floodwaters, the horns were recovered by forest staffers and deposited with park authorities.