Rare rhinos dodge poachers in world's top reserve for first time since 1977

NEW DELHI, Jan 9 (Reuters) - No rhinos were poached last year in the world's largest reserve for the endangered great one-horned rhinoceros, India's Assam state, in what authorities said was the first time since 1977.

Filled with elephant-grass meadows, swampy lagoons, and dense forests, the Kaziranga National Park in northeast India's Assam is home to 2,200 rhinos, or two-thirds of their world population. It has attracted British royalty as well as cricket stars, but poaching had become a big concern.

Poachers killed more than 190 rhinos in Assam between 2000 and 2021 but none was killed last year, according to data shared by Assam Police with Reuters. The last time there was no poaching was in 1977.

A record 27 rhinos were killed in Assam each year in 2013 and 2014, the data showed, as poachers sought to sell their horns for thousands of dollars in East Asia where they are prized as medicine and jewellery.

Assam Police said 58 poachers were arrested last year, five injured and four killed.

"We need to keep the pressure on the poaching gangs," said Assam's special director general of police, Gyanendra Pratap Singh, who heads a task force to tackle poaching.

"We have to ensure that the graph of poaching stays flat at nil for a few years" until that becomes the norm, he said.

Authorities also plan to boost efforts to investigate those receiving poached rhino horns in other states and countries, he added.

Despite the poaching in Assam, the world population of the one-horned rhino has soared to around 3,700 from just around 200 at the turn of the 20th century, according to the global conservation group WWF.

Apart from India, they are also found in Nepal.

Additional reporting by Sakshi Dayal; Editing by Conor Humphries

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As the breaking news editor for South Asia, Krishna leads a team of reporters in the region covering everything from political and general news to economic and financial news. He also closely tracks India’s health industry and all things Bangladesh. He was a member of teams that won the Society of Publishers in Asia awards in 2017 and 2018 for Reuters coverage of the Bangladesh Bank heist and the Rohingya refugee crisis. He served as Malaysia bureau chief in 2019/20 before returning home. Krishna earlier led India’s political and general news team.