Indian Vision 2020 in depth

Background

Historically, the Greater one-horned or 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, West Bengal and Nepal.

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), while smaller Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam has a secure and growing population of about 100.

The other protected areas in Assam where this species occurs include Orang National Park and Manas National Park. The species also occurs in Dudwha National Park in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Gorumara National Park in the state of West Bengal.

In Nepal, more than 500 Greater one-horned rhinos occur in Chitwan National Park, Bardiya National Park and Suklaphanta Wildlife Sanctuary. The species is increasing in number once again, despite the continued threats of poaching and habitat loss.

Threats

As with any major conservation endeavour, there have been problems and setbacks. In Assam, there has been significant poaching often related to ethnic conflicts and consequent poor law-and-order. This led to rhinos being eradicated in the 1990s from two Assamese reserves (Manas and Laokhowa / Bura Chapori) and the population in another (Orang) declined from about 100 animals to fewer than 50. Although numbers have improved, poaching is becoming a bigger issue again, due to local insurgencies and political strife.

The increase in numbers has led to other problems. The high concentration of 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-eggs-in-one-basket syndrome. Further, Pobitora National Park has exceeded its carrying capacity for rhinos and numbers must be reduced to protect the habitat and to mitigate the increasing rhino-human conflict.

Hence, the need for the following was identified:

  • 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 Pobitora (and maybe even Kaziranga) so that it is within ecological carrying capacity

This led, in 2005, to the Assam Forest Department embarking on a major rhino range and population expansion programme known as “Indian Rhino Vision 2020”.

IRV 2020 expansion programme

The goal of IRV 2020 is to increase the total rhino population in Assam 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 will be achieved through increased protection and translocations of rhinos from source populations in Kaziranga and Pobitora.

Assam 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.

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park is a national park in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts and is a World Heritage Site; the Park hosts two-thirds of the world's Greater one-horned rhinos. It is also home to tigers, elephants, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer and many bird species. Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, criss-crossed by four major rivers. It is 430km2 in size. Under IRV 2020, eight rhinos have been translocated from Kaziranga to Manas National Park to date.

Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary

Pobitora is only approx. 16km2  and is located c. 50km from Guwahati, making it a popular destination for many Indian tourists. Under IRV 2020, 10 rhinos have been translocated from Pobitora to Manas.

Manas National Park

Manas National Park is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. It is located in the Himalayan foothills and is connected to the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. It is home to tigers, pygmy hogs and golden langurs as well as elephants, wild buffalo and Indian bison.  Including the Bhutan side of the Park, it is more than twice the size of Kaziranga at 950 km2. The original population of rhinos were poached to extinction in 1996 due to civil unrest but thanks to IRV 2020, Manas now has rhino again.

Manas translocations

  • Phase one: 2005-2008: Field assessments were carried out, infrastructure built, and the levels of security were improved in Manas
  • Phase two: 2008-2012: 18 rhinos were translocated to Manas from Pobitora and Kaziranga under IRV 2020 and four from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation as part of rehabilitation programme of WTI and the Government of Assam. All 22 rhinos survived the translocations

IRV 2020 has 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. 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 video you tube

Since the translocations, there have been 11 births – fantastic news – but unfortunately there are increasing poaching pressures on the Park and a lot of work needs to be done to keep this new population safe.

Bura Chapori Wildlife Sanctuary

Bura Chapori is located between Orang and Kaziranga National Parks and so is an important corridor for animals between these two Parks; it currently has no rhinos. There are plans to translocate rhinos to Bura Chapori this year.

Monitoring and evaluation

All the rhinos translocated to Manas are then monitored using radio telemetry and visual sightings to find out areas used by these translocated rhinos within Manas NP.

Community work

IRV 2020 has worked with Manas Ever Welfare Society (MEWS) to bring benefits to the local community. This includes garnering support for conservation from local villagers and offering them livelihood incentives by providing piglets, agriculture and weaving support in association with other line department and agencies.

To donate to this programme please click here and select India - Indian Rhino Vision 2020 from the drop down

 Visiting Assam

Assam is very easy to visit with flights into Guwahati from Delhi or Mumbai. All of the national parks can be visited by car; hiring a driver is strongly recommended.