‘Master’ poacher in police net; kingpin identified as Tohiykhu Zhimomi from Nagaland
GUWAHATI: The “Master” of the region’s inter-state rhino poaching racket was finally in the police net on Wednesday night when the Guwahati police crime branch, in a joint operation with state forest department sleuths from Kaziranga National Park (KNP), caught the most wanted kingpin from city’s Six Mile area.
Tohiykhu Zhimomi is known as the Master in the rhino poaching racket of the region due to his prominent role as a rhino horn dealer in the entire northeastern region. He hails from neighbouring state Nagaland’s Dimapur town and was taking shelter in the city.
Guwahati Police Commissioner, Deepak Kumar said, “We have inputs of the most wanted poacher’s movements in the city and according to it we along with forest department sleuths nabbed him. He has been handed over to the forest department who is going to interrogate him.”
The Master is wanted in at least seven poaching cases in KNP. Immediately after his arrest, the forest department sleuths have taken him into their custody for further investigation.
Rohini Ballabh Saikia, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Kaziranga, said, “He is amongst the most wanted kingpins of the region’s rhino poaching and horn selling racket. He is one of those who controls the cross border poaching racket from Nagaland. He hires the sharpshooters usually engaged in rhino poaching and supplies them with firearms too.” Forest department sources added that the arrested accused is also allegedly involved in providing international sellers for the rhino horn smugglers.
“He was out of the catch because most of the poachers don’t know his real name. They know him as the ‘Master’ because of the orders, instructions and support he provides without coming out in front. His arrest is vital to unearth the entire chain of poaching racket,” said forest department sources adding that several poachers who were arrested by the department earlier have named him of ordering the rhino poaching.
An investigation has so far revealed that Zhimomi is a rhino horn dealer who provides sharpshooters from Nagaland (where many still practice traditional hunting) to the Assam based poaching rackets. After the poachers on the ground accomplish the crime, his aides usually take the horns to him which he would subsequently sell across the borders of Myanmar with his networks in Manipur and Nagaland.
It was the second successful operation by the state police and forest department sleuths within a week. On July 6, five of a poaching racket, including one Nagaland-based sharpshooter, were also nabbed in a joint operation by state police and forest department from Biswanath district.
“The activities of the poaching rackets usually go up during the flooding season when rhinos which stray out of the park due to rising water become vulnerable to poaching. Master was also planning such attempts of poaching since the Kaziranga Park is now affected by flood water,” said forest officials.
The sharpshooter from Nagaland has been found to be involved in multiple numbers of poaching incidents in the last couple of years.
A former poacher turned forest guard said, “A sharpshooter is called the pilot, the gun is the machine and the bullets are the tablets. Sharpshooters are mostly from Nagaland, while those living around the park provide shelter and guidance. Of late, some of the local poachers have taken to shooting. Usually, a pilot is hired for Rs 2 lakhs.”
Most of the time the gun owner and receiver of the horn is the same person operating from Nagaland.
“Nowadays guns are available on hire for Rs 10,000 a week. The gun stays away from the owner and circulates among different gangs. But the rent money is always delivered to the gun owner. The cost of the horn depends on whether it is intact or chipped,” he added.
The rhinos in the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist attraction, have been a target of poachers, who kill them and sell the horns to the international gang of smugglers. The year 2013 and 2014 saw the highest number of poaching (27 in each year) followed by 17 in 2015, 18 in 2016 and six each in 2017 and 2018. Three rhinos have been killed this year so far in the park.
During 2017-18, some 75 poachers were nabbed and several arms including .303, AK series rifles, silencers and ammunition were seized by the security forces. Recently, an 82-member special protection force trained to combat poachers was deployed in the KNP.