By Hari Kumar
One challenge facing any visitor to one of India’s tiger parks is actually seeing a tiger. Often, people leave without ever catching a glimpse. For many years, the same problem existed for visitors who came to see the rhinoceroses at the Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam. At the low point a century ago, there were only a dozen rhinos in the entire park.
But now, when visitors roam the park by jeep or by elephant safari, they can see rhinos almost everywhere. Whether they are wandering through the high grasses, or cooling themselves in the park’s wetlands, rhinos are now resurgent at Kaziranga, in what has become India’s most successful conservation effort, if one tempered by growing concerns about renewed threats from poaching.
“It is a great conservation success story,” said Dipankar Ghose, a director at the World Wildlife Fund in India. “The local community also supports it in a big way. You do not see conflict killings in Kaziranga,” he said, referring to the killing of wild animals by nearby residents.
Last month, park rangers conducted a census inside Kaziranga that confirmed the positive trend. The final count was 2,329 rhinos, compared to 12 a century ago. This marks the latest improvement in a steady increase of the rhino population that has seen numbers rise from 366 in 1966 to 1,080 in 1984 to 2,048 in 1999 and steadily upward, according the data maintained by the World Wildlife Fund.
Forest officials and conservation experts say the long-term increase in rhinos is because of better landscape management, better protection and the willing involvement of the local population in conservation efforts.
The “rhinoceros is the state animal of Assam, and people have a very deep-rooted affinity with them,” said Sanjib Kumar Bora, the forest conservator of Kaziranga National Park.
In addition, “maintaining the composite habitat of grassland and wetland with tree-covered areas in patches is the ideal habitat for the rhinoceros,” he said, which has been possible in Kaziranga because of community involvement and tough security measures. More....