Poachers killed two one-horned rhinos and chopped off their horns in Assam's Kaziranga National Park (KNP) on Wednesday morning, officials said.
According to reports, poachers killed the rhinos near the NH-37, some 200 meters away from Dirang forest camp under Burapahar range office in the park, on the wee hours of Wednesday.
"The incident occurred around 3.20 am on Wednesday nearby the NH-37, where poachers killed two rhinos using sophisticated weapons and chopped off their horns," said a KNP official.
"When our boys came out from the forest camp after hearing the sound of the firing, the poachers fired at the forest guards and bullets were exchanged. However, the poachers managed to flee from the site with the horns," the park official said.
Forest guards found bullet-injured de-horned rhinos and four empty cartridges of AK series rifle from the site.
Top forest officials rushed to the area and launched an operation against the poachers.
Meanwhile, security forces apprehended an owner of a roadside dhaba in connection with the rhino killing incident.
Poachers have killed 24 rhinos so far at Kaziranga this year.
Kaziranga had lost 22 rhinos in 2012.
Recently, the state forest department had deployed 300 armed jawans of Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) at the world heritage site to protect wild animals and fight against poachers.
Earlier this year, Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain had officially introduced UAV surveillance at Kaziranga to protect wild animals, including one-horned rhinoceros.
"The state forest department has totally failed to protect rhinos from poachers in the world heritage site. The Assam forest minister Rockybul Hussain had announced various schemes for the Kaziranga, but would not take any necessary steps to protect wild animals," wildlife activist Niva Medhi said.
Medhi said: "155 one horned rhinoceros were killed at KNP in the past 12 years. During the period, poachers killed 10 rhinos in 2001, 5 in 2002, 6 in 2003, 5 in 2004, 12 in 2005, 9 in 2006, 19 in 2007, 12 in 2008, 14 in 2009, 8 in 2010, 9 in 2011, 22 in 2012 and 24 in 2013 upto this month and it has shown an alarm bell to the big animal."
Several organizations, including WWF-India, have raised their voice against rhino killings at Kaziranga and urged the state government and forest department to take necessary action to protect wild animals at the world heritage site.
The state government and forest department had announced that the government will be distributing AK series rifles to the forest guards at Kaziranga to fight against poachers who had used similar firearms in the recent rhino killings in the park. But the announcement is still waiting for implementation.
(Reporting by Hemanta Kumar Nath)