The Greater One Horned Rhino: Past, Present and Future | WWF India

The Greater One Horned Rhino: Past, Present and Future

Posted on 29 December 2016   |  
© WWF-India

The report address the present status and distribution of the Greater One-Horned Rhino and elaborates conservation actions that are necessary to secure its future.


A WWF report on rhinos titled 'The Greater One Horned Rhino: Past, Present and Future’ was officially released by the Hon’ble Forest Minister of Assam, Mrs Pramila Rani Brahma on 29th  December at the Assam Secretariat in Guwahati. The programme was attended by Shri Paban Borthakur, Principal Secretary, Forest, Government of Assam; Shri Bikash Brahma, PCCF & HOFF (I/C) and Chief Wildlife Warden Assam; Shri M.C. Malakar Retd., Chief Wildlife Warden Assam and senior officials of the Assam Forest Department. Dr. Anupam Sarmah, Team Leader, Assam Landscape and Mr. Amit Sharma, Senior Coordinator, Rhino Conservation of WWF- India were also present during this release.    
 
The report addresses the present status and distribution of this species and elucidates conservation actions that are necessary to secure its future. The report aims to help and guide researchers, managers and people working for the conservation of this species now and in the future.
 
WWF has been associated with conservation of rhinos for the past three decades. Rhino conservation activities of WWF-India include securing its present population and habitat areas and expanding its range. For the last 10 years, WWF has been working with the Assam Forest Department, the International Rhino Foundation and other partners on the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020). This ambitious programme aims to increase the numbers of wild rhinos in Assam from 2,001 – the population at the time it was launched – to 3,000, spread across seven protected areas.  The rhino population in Assam now stands at 2,626 which is home to 70 per cent of the total population.
 
Rhino Range: Then and Now
The greater one-horned rhino historically occupied an area stretching from the borders of Myanmar in the east, across northern India and southern Nepal, as far as the Indus Valley in Pakistan in the west. Over the last few centuries this range has shrunk drastically and has been reduced to just 11 pockets of protected populations in northern India and the Nepalese Terai, with the two main hubs being Assam’s Kaziranga National Park and Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.
RHINO NUMBERS BY ROTECTED AREA (* Figures as of October 2015)
Kaziranga National Park, Assam 2,401
Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh 2
Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal 200
Gorumara National Park, West Bengal 50
Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam 92
Orang National Park, Assam 100
Manas National Park, Assam 32
Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh 32
Chitwan National Park, Nepal 605
Bardia National Park, Nepal 29
Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Nepal 8
Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Nepal 3
 
 
Increased protection of both the species and it habitat over the past few decades has meant that the status of the greater one-horned rhino has improved albeit marginally wherein the species is now listed as “Vulnerable” from the earlier  “Endangered”. Threats today come in new forms, and there is still potential for a disastrous reversal of the hard-won progress that has been achieved. On the one hand rhino populations remain scattered – around 3500 across an area less than 20000 sq. km. over 11 sites –, on the other hand 70% of the population could be wiped out due a single event – disease, poaching, natural disaster or some other similar factors as they are concentrated in one site i.e. Kaziranga National Park.

Threats to Rhinos in Assam
Poaching is a constant menace in all areas where rhinos are found. Rhino horn is a highly prized (though now outlawed) ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Government and national park authorities have made great strides in tackling poaching. Kaziranga National Park currently has 174 anti-poaching camps, including nine which float in the Brahmaputra River. But the scale of this activity reflects the scale of the problem: from 1984 to 2004 the park lost 371 rhinos to poachers, while a further 206 have been killed in the decade since then. Keeping poaching under control requires enormous ongoing efforts. The poachers themselves are running great risks: since 1996, 411 have been arrested by park authorities, while 65 have been killed in encounters with frontline staff.
 
Indian Rhino Vision 2020
 
The first three years (2005 to 2008) of the IRV 2020 programme involved extensive field work to improve protection for existing populations and areas where rhinos could be reintroduced. Thereafter, in April 2008, the first translocations took place from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary to Manas National Park. These were the first rhinos in Manas since the entire population there had been wiped out by poachers during the civil unrest in the late 20th century. Further translocations to Manas followed, with more rhinos coming from Pobitora and also from Kaziranga. In the late summer of 2012 the first birth took place, and two more followed in 2013. The creation of new breeding populations can rejuvenate gene pools, increase rhino numbers and help to guard against poaching and disease.
 
The reintroduced rhino population in Manas is now well established, currently numbering 32, and breeding successfully. This can be considered a major conservation success. Plans are also being made under IRV 2020 to reintroduce rhinos through translocation to Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Laokhowa and Burachapori wildlife sanctuaries. Sadly, new populations face the same threats as old ones as six rhinos were poached in Manas from October 2011 to October 2013. IRV 2020 also aims to improve security in rhino-bearing areas. The use of drones for surveillance was first tested in Kaziranga National Park. To improve protection measures in Manas National Park, rangers now use SMART patrolling, employing digital technology to transmit real-time information from the field. Initial results have been encouraging.
 
Way forward
The greater one horned rhino is a flagship species, the protection of which will also help secure its unique grassland habitat which in turn is home to a wide diversity of species. Robust enforcement while necessary cannot alone secure rhino populations, engagement with communities that reside close to rhino populations is crucial. Communities in turn stand to benefit from the tourism revenues that rhinos have the potential to pull in, the Chitwan National Park being a case in point. The park attracted over 173000 tourists in 2013-14 generating revenue of 246.8 million Nepali rupees (US$2.5 million) in entry fees alone. Half of the money was reinvested in to communities residing in the buffer. In Manas National Park as well, tourism has grown rapidly and land values are up since the reintroduction of the rhino strengthening the local economy.      
 
For more information, please contact:
Amit Sharma, Senior Coordinator, Rhino Conservation, WWF-India
9435015657| amitsharma.assam@gmail.com / asharma@wwfindia.net

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