GAUHATI, India (AP) — The newly elected government of the northeast Indian state of Assam has launched plans to crack down on the poaching of the area’s famed one-horned rhinos, an official said Saturday.
The state’s Kaziranga National Park is home to the world’s largest population of the rare rhinos, with more than 2,000 of the species. While overall poaching deaths have dropped over the last few years, a series of rhino killings this year has led the new government to renew anti-poaching efforts.
The state’s new environment minister, Pramila Rani Brahma, said that local police have been asked to join the offensive against poaching. Previously, Kaziranga’s forest rangers and anti-poaching staff handled this responsibility on their own.
Brahma said allegations that some park staff may be involved in the trade in rhino parts were also being investigated.
On Tuesday, as Brahma and other officials visited Kaziranga to discuss the threat of poaching, a female rhino was shot dead by poachers in the vicinity.
In April, poachers killed a rhino at the 480-square-kilometer (185-square-mile) park hours after a visit by Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate.
The royal couple had spent several hours at Kaziranga in hopes of drawing attention to the plight of endangered animals, including the park’s one-horned rhinos.
All five of the world’s rhino species are under constant threat from poachers seeking their horns to sell on the black market. Demand is high in countries such as China and Vietnam, where people mistakenly believe consuming rhino horns can increase male potency.
This year, eight rhinos in Kaziranga have been killed for their horns, after 17 were poached in 2015.
Despite the threats, Kaziranga is a conservation success story. The reserve had 75 rhinos in 1905. In 1966, the number of rhinos in Kaziranga was put at 366. According to a 2015 estimate, the number has risen to 2,401.