By Ranjita Biswas
The year 2013 opened on a disastrous note for the one-horned rhinoceros of the northeastern Indian state of Assam. At the beginning of April, officials in the Kaziranga National Park (KNP), one of the last retreats left in South Asia for these endangered creatures, reported that 17 rhinos had been poached.
The ungulate is also found in other protected reserves throughout Assam, namely the Manas National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas on the border of Bhutan, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, not far from the Assamese capital Guwahati and Orang National Park, which sits on the northern banks of the Brahmaputra river, one of the largest in Asia.
But most of the killings happen in KNP, home to the largest population of one-horned rhinos in the world. The park’s resident tiger population, along with its tall grasses, marshlands and moist tropical forest areas that support a high density of biodiversity, earned it the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
When the British colonialists declared Kaziranga a game sanctuary in 1916, there were an estimated 20 rhinos left in the park. Large-scale destruction of rhino habitat across the Indo-Gangetic Plain and rampant hunting had all but wiped out the animal, with the few remaining creatures confined to pockets in the northeast. A period of relative calm between 1983 and 1989 saw the total number of rhinos killed reach 235. From that point onwards, officials reported only sporadic poaching.
Herculean efforts by wildlife conservationists has today brought the number of rhinos up to 2,329 according to the recently concluded wildlife census of India (2013). This number is a slight increase from the recorded population of 2,290 in 2012, Sanjib Kumar Bora, conservator of forests for KNP, told IPS. More....