Two rhino poachers were shot dead early Wednesday morning in India’s Kaziranga National Park by forest guards, who also found a .303 rifle and an axe near their location. The killings are the result of a recent effort by Indian authorities to combat the illegal trade of ivory and animal skin. Two poachers managed to flee the scene before guards, who have been working in conjunction with intelligence units, could apprehend them.
Earlier this month authorities found the remains of a rhinoceros that had been killed and stripped of its horn. That discovery was the second in the past week and the twelfth this year. The killings and their ensuing publicity have drawn attention to the rhinos' plight in India.
“We engaged a strong group of forest guards to launch an operation in Agoratoli forest range [located roughly 150 miles east of the state capital, Guwahati] last night. During their night-long operation, our staff came upon a group of poachers in a dense part of the forest and tried to chase them,” Divisional Forest Officer Shil Sharma told the Times of India.
“But, on seeing forest guards, the poachers first opened fire and then fled towards the bank of the Brahmaputra. By morning, our foresters [cornered] them on the bank of the river and started retaliation firing. Two of them died on the spot and two others managed to escape the attack.”
Sharma told the Times of India the poachers have not been identified, but based on their appearance they seem to be between 20 and 25 years old and from a local tribal community.
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The Wall Street Journal reported that Indian forest guards have designated 153 mini-camps to combat poaching and protect rhinos. Still, experts said, they’re able to “sneak in” and “resort to all sorts of tactics that include digging pits to trap them.”
Two species of Asian rhino - the Sumatran and the Javan - are listed as endangered species. At least 21 rhinos were killed last year, according to Sky News. The large beast is popular across Asia, where the Chinese use the horn for medicine and jewelry and the Vietnamese believe a horn can help cure cancer.
A 2012 census found that the Indian National Park in question was home to 2,290 one-horned rhinos -- out of a global population of 3,300.