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Indian state gets tough on poachers

World

Gauhati - A remote state in northeastern India has introduced tough anti-poaching laws with penalties of up to 10 years in prison for killing a rhinoceros, elephant or tiger, an official said on Friday.

The new legislation is a response to poachers killing at least nine endangered one-horn rhinos this year in and around Kaziranga National Park in Assam state, known for its wildlife diversity. More than 2 000 of the estimated 3 000 one-horn rhinos left in the wild live in the park.

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Kaziranga National Park, in India's northeastern state of Assam, is renowned for both being a habitat for the Indian one-horned rhinoceros and also having the highest Asiatic elephant population in the country.

The new penalties, which went into effect on Wednesday and only apply in Assam, are an update to the federal government's Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, said Rokybul Hussain, the state forest minister. That act levies jail terms of three to seven years for poachers.

Poachers will now face increased fines in Assam of about $1 085, five times what the national law provides for, Hussain said.

“We mean business in getting at poaching gangs,” he said.

The state is also creating a Forest Protection Force aimed at catching poachers. The 1 000-strong force is being trained by police and will have more modern weapons than the rangers who have been guarding the state's forests, Hussain said.

Poachers killed an average of 32 rhinos in the state each year between 1980 and 1997. That number fell to 18 in 2008 and 14 in 2009.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities and can cure fever and stomach ailments.

A rhino horn sells for up to $32 600 per kilogram in clandestine Asian markets, according to wildlife officials. - Sapa-AP

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