By Roopak Goswami
The rhino population in Manas National Park faces the threat of extinction in the next two to three decades if effective management steps are not taken, a specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned.
"The rate of poaching is simply too high. If it's maintained over a long period, it will drive the population into a sharp decline to eventual extinction in approximately 20 to 30 years," says the draft report of the population-viability analysis (PVA) of the greater one-horned rhinoceros in Assam.
A meeting of the high-level task force, constituted by the forest department for Manas, at the national park today reviewed the security scenario of the park and the need to improve patrolling.
The meeting also took note of the need for funds, which is becoming a big constraint in getting work done. "The delay in central funds being released by Dispur has become a perennial problem," said a park official who attended the meeting.
Eight rhinos have been poached in Manassince 2011. The population of rhinos in the park is 30 at present. The park area falls in five districts - Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri, and Darrang, and is contiguous with the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan.
Experts from the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the IUCN did the analysis last month with the help of wildlife officials and experts from the state and elsewhere. It aimed at finding out the current and future demographic dynamics of the greater one-horned rhino and alternative management strategies.
The population analysis was done for 30 years. The experts used vortex, a simulation software package, for the analysis.
The report focuses on the feasibility of translocation of rhinos that had so far taken place from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora wildlife sanctuary to Manas. Translocation will also take place from Laokhowa-Burhachapori wildlife sanctuary soon.
The scientists evaluated the future of rhinos in Manas under three different translocation scenarios - no further translocation of rhinos from Kaziranga, translocation of 10 animals from Kaziranga and translocation of 20 animals from Kaziranga. "Under relatively high rates of poaching, as seen in the past couple of years, even aggressive translocation efforts, where a large number of animals are translocated from Kaziranga over a two-year period, does not lead to a viable Manas population," the report says.
Simulations were done and it was assumed that four rhinos are killed each year in Manas. "If poaching is reduced by about 50 per cent, the addition of 20 animals for each of the first two years of the simulation leads to a population that can remain stable over the next 30 years. Although there is a five per cent risk that even this level of translocation will not be successful and the population will become extinct," it says.
Under the third scenario, a more modest effort of 10 animals per year is not enough to overcome the impact of poaching, resulting in an extinction risk of approximately 50 per cent and a general decline in population.
"If poaching rates are reduced further to approximately one animal per year, the translocation efforts can yield robust population growth and negligible risk of extinction. Otherwise, introduction of additional animals from a source such as Kaziranga will likely be considered an unwise use of a precious resource," the report says.
Though there has been no poaching this year (owing to army operations), a sense of insecurity still prevails in the park. Officials both from the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and the park had voiced concerns in the last meeting of the rhino task force here.
A source in the BTC forest department said nobody wants to serve in the park. Another said the snatching of arms and wireless sets last year had affected the morale of the park staff.
The report, however, adds that PVA methodologies such as the vortex system are not intended to give absolute and accurate "answers" for what the future will bring for a given wildlife species or population.
"This limitation arises simply from two fundamental facts about the natural world - it is inherently unpredictable in its detailed behaviour and we will never fully understand its precise mechanics," it says.