Rare Rhino Killed By Poachers After Prince William And Duchess Catherine Visit Kaziranga Park To Promote Conservation

So far in 2016, seven one-horned rhinos have been killed by poachers in an area meant to protect this vulnerable species. Two of those deaths came this week, the first three days before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Kaziranga National Park, a sanctuary in Assam, India, that is home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos. The second death came just hours after the royal couple finished their tour. The Indian Express reported that Prince William and Duchess Catherine were staying in a lodge only 20 kilometers away from the incident when it happened.

According to ITV News, Prince William said he was “appalled” upon hearing the news of the first death and pledged to help fight poaching. Kensington Palace issued a statement after news broke of the second death expressing the royal couple’s emotional response to the violent occurrence.

“The Duke and Duchess were angry to hear about the killing of this rhino during their visit. They hope their time in Kaziranga encourages others to support the brave rangers that are protecting animals that are so important to the communities that surround the national park.”

The Indian Express quoted park official Subhashis Das as saying forest guards exchanged gunfire with the poachers, but they escaped. Officials later found as many as 105 empty AK-47 cartridges near the deceased animal. The rhino had been shot and its horn cut off. Security was heightened during the royal couple’s visit, according to The Guardian, but illegal poaching is an ongoing problem in the area.

BBC News reports that out of a global population of 3,300 one-horned rhinos, Kaziranga is home to approximately 2,400. Twenty of the animals were killed by poaching in 2015. Rhinos are prized for their horns, which are believed by some communities to have medicinal properties.

Kaziranga covers a 480-sq-km area. During their visit, Prince William and Duchess Catherine ventured by jeep deep into the sanctuary and interacted with many animals. The royals visited the nearby Centre of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, where they bottle-fed many animals, including young rhinos. The sanctuary is home to many species, including elephants, water buffalo, tigers, and swamp deer.

The fight against illegal poaching is a priority of Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry. Prince William has helped steer long-term efforts towards wildlife conservation and last year put out a call to stop the illegal trade of wildlife products. The Prince is the Royal Patron of the Tusk Trust, which promotes conservation, poverty alleviation and education through field projects in 18 African countries.

This past December, Prince Harry posted an extensive social media diary of his visits with conservationists working throughout Africa. The younger son of Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles spent three months volunteering with wildlife conservation efforts last year. The Guardian published Harry’s own photos of rhinos who had been badly injured by poaching. One picture showed Harry ying across the belly of a sedated elephant, with a long caption in which Harry lamented the loss of animals due to the illegal wildlife trade.

“After a very long day in Kruger national park, with five rhinos sent to new homes and three elephants freed from their collars – like this sedated female – I decided to take a moment. I know how lucky I am to have these experiences, but hearing stories from people on the ground about how bad the situation really is upset and frustrated me. How can it be that 30,000 elephants were slaughtered last year alone? And for what? Their tusks? Seeing huge carcasses of rhinos and elephants scattered across Africa with their horns and tusks missing is a pointless waste of beauty.”

Harry’s work was not without controversy, however, as The Independent reported last August that Princes Harry and William have participated in recreational hunting trips, although not to hunt endangered species. Also that month The Daily Beast criticized Prince Harry for never apologizing for posing for a photo with a deceased buffalo in 2004 after trophy hunting on the property of his then-girlfriend, although the activity was not illegal.

[Photo by Pool/Getty Images]