Kaziranga: Forest authorities in India`s northeastern state of Assam have intensified patrol at a famed national park as there are fears that poacher gangs might try and kill animals by poisoning the grass instead of gunning down the wildlife.
A forest department spokesperson said an alert was sounded at the Kaziranga National Park after they found at least half-a-dozen cattle dead reportedly after grazing on poisoned grass in the fringes of the sanctuary.
"Although forensic test reports were yet to come, we suspect the cattle died after grazing on poisoned grass -- some toxic chemicals laced with salt might have been sprinkled on a patch of grassland," Kaziranga park director S.N. Buragohain told reporters.
Park wardens and rangers said poacher gangs were probably changing their tactics of killing rhinos and other animals using the conventional method of gunning down the wildlife or by digging pits to trap them.
"We have already sent a senior official to the park to investigate the matter. Patrols have been stepped up and efforts on to fence certain stretches in the fringe areas as well to avoid any kind of threat," Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain told IANS.
"We are taking the reports very seriously, although we would be sure only when we get the forensic report."
The risk is manifold -- tigers could prey on the dead cattle and then themselves become a victim, while rhinos and deer could also stray out of the park to the fringe areas to graze on the poisoned grass.
"Preliminary reports indicate that the poison was laced with salt and then sprinkled on the grassland. And some of the animals have a great penchant for salt and this could be a new modus operandi of poachers to target rhinos," a forest guard said.
As per the latest rhino census figures of April 2009, some 2,048 of the world`s estimated 3,000 one-horned rhinos lumber around the wilds of the 430 sq km Kaziranga -- their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.
Last year 18 rhinos were killed by poachers, the first time in a decade that the number of rhinos killed in a year has touched a double digit figure in the park.
Poacher gangs kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia.
Rhino horn is also fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.
Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering -- rhino horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million per kilogram in the international market after they are smuggled to China or sold in other clandestine Asian markets.
Once extracted, the rhino horn is routed to smugglers in places like Dimapur in Nagaland, Imphal in Manipur and Siliguri in West Bengal.