India: IRV2020


India Rhino Vision 2020

Location: Kaziranga, Orang and Manas National Parks, and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam
Project leader: Bibhab Talukdar in conjunction with other agencies
Project partner: Indian Rhino Vision 2020 is coordinated by the International Rhino Foundation, WWF-India and the Assam Forest Department, with Aaranyak as one of the key delivery agencies
Rhino species: Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)
Activities: Anti-poaching, monitoring, translocations, community conservation
Support: We focus on Manas National Park, where rhino reintroductions are planned
Funding partners: International Rhino Foundation, Chester Zoo, Stuttgart Zoo

Historically, the Greater one-horned a.k.a. Indian rhino, was abundant in the alluvial grasslands of major river systems (Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus) in the northern part of the South Asia subcontinent. However, rhino populations were decimated due to excessive hunting (both for sport and by poachers) as well as large-scale conversion of habitat. By the early 20th century, only a few small and fragmented pockets of rhino remained in Assam, Bengal and Nepal. Kaziranga National Park, for instance, at its creation in 1905, had only an estimated 10-20 rhinos.    

Greater one horned rhino                              Greater one horned rhino - Credit IRV 2020

Through strict protection, this species recovered spectacularly during the last century in both India and Nepal – a great success story in rhino conservation. For example, Kaziranga celebrated its Centenary in 2005 with at least 1,700 rhinos (70% of the world’s population; 85%, of Assam’s). Smaller Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam has a secure and growing population of about 100. Rhinos in West Bengal reserves have also prospered.

But the recovery has been uneven, fitful, and still tenuous. Nepal, where rhino numbers had increased from 50 in 1950 to 650 in 2000, has lost 250 (40%) of its rhinos in the last five years. Assam has also had major problems and setbacks. Significant poaching often related to ethnic conflicts and consequent poor law-and-order situations eradicated the rhino from three Assamese reserves (Manas, Laokhowa and Burhachpori) and the population in another (Orang) has declined from about 100 to fewer than 40, which are still in peril.

Moreover, concentrating so many rhinos in a single protected area like Kaziranga exposes the species to risks of calamities (epidemics, floods, massive poaching attempts), i.e. all-the-egg-in-one-basket syndrome. Further, rhinos in Pabitora have exceeded carrying capacity and numbers must be reduced to protect the habitat and to mitigate the increasing rhino-human conflicts. Hence, there is a need:

  • To improve security in all rhino areas in Assam
  • To expand the distribution of rhinos to reduce the risk of catastrophes
  • To reduce the population in Pabitora (and maybe even Kaziranga) so that it is within carrying capacity

To fulfill these needs, the Assam Department of Forests and Environment has embarked on a major rhino range and population expansion programme known as “Indian Rhino Vision 2020”. The goal of IRV 2020 is to increase the total rhino population in Assam from 2,000 to 3,000 by the year 2020 and, just as significantly, to ensure these rhinos are distributed over at least seven Protected Areas to provide long-term viability. This goal will be achieved through increased protection and translocations of rhinos from source populations in Kaziranga and Pabitora to target areas such as Manas, which once had at least 100 rhinos.

Female rhino anaesthetized for translocationFemale rhino anaesthetized read for translocation - Credit Bibhab Talukdar

In the initial three-year phase, IRV 2020 will translocate 20-30 rhino to Manas NP commencing in 2008. Subsequent translocations will move rhino to other, former ranges. Before any translocations can occur, adequate security must be reestablished and local communities involved in conservation. This process is well underway in Manas, where construction has commenced on camps at crucial sites and the local Bodo community has embraced the programme.

Assam has established a Task Force on Rhino Translocations to manage the programme which is a collaborative effort with WWF (WWF-India and WWF AREAS) and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) as major implementing and funding partners. But IRV 2020 is an exceptionally significant and inspirational programme that has captivated the imagination and support locally in Manas, regionally in Assam, nationally in India, and globally in Europe and North America.

The IRV 2020 have created a short film 'From Pobitora to Manas', which provides an overview of the rhino translocations undertaken from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary to Manas National Park, Assam under the programme. The film follows the journey of the 10 rhinos that were translocated between April 2008 and January 2012 and the immense efforts that went into making the whole exercise successful. You can watch the film on you tube below you tube