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Corbett, with capacity to nurture over 150 one-horned rhinos, ‘top priority’ site for their reintroduction: Study

Indian elephant at Jim Corbett National Park, India. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Staff Reporter, Times of India | February 28, 2021

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DEHRADUN: A study recently published in the journal, ‘Nature’, states that out of the 31 protected areas (PAs) — comprising different tiger reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across India, Nepal and Bhutan — Corbett National Park can become an adequate habitat for the single-horn rhino.

The one-horn rhino is categorised as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List, and currently, there are only around 3,500 rhinos across the globe out of which around 2,400 are in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park and around 600 in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Therefore, experts feel there is a dire need to reintroduce the animal which is most trafficked for its horn. Historically, in Nepal, rhinos were found in Banke National Park, Bardiya National Park, Shuklaphanta National Park, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Chitwan National Park and Parsa Wildlife Reserve while in Bhutan, the animal’s presence was noted in the Royal Manas National Park.

In India, the megaherbivores were found across Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar. In Uttarakhand, the animal’s presence has been recorded in Corbett, Jhilmil Jheel Conservation Reserve, Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary and Rajaji National Park.

The study — ‘Feasibility of reintroducing grassland megaherbivores, the greater one-horned rhinoceros and swamp buffalo within their historic global range’ — was conducted by a group of scientists from India and the UK, and was published on February 24.

The scientists reached the conclusion of Corbett being a suitable habitat after analysing some of the vital parameters for the survival of the rhinos at a new location — legal status of the protected animal, protection from poachers, management efficacies and least human conflict.

“Uttarakhand should simply go ahead with the opportunity to save this species which sorely needs attention as it has almost negligible tolerance to climate change. We have to bring them to a safer habitat,” said Yadvenderadev V Jhala, senior scientist and author of the study from WII.

According to scientists, the rhino’s population has dwindled owing to habitat loss triggered by conversion of the floodplain and foothill habitat into agricultural lands.

The study while justifying Corbett as a high-priority site, stated, “Corbett can sustain a population of more than 150 rhinoceros. Site evaluation and habitat studies, including grassland food-source species like Saccharum, Imperata cylindrica, Arundo and Vetivaria, suggest that Corbett is suitable, with ample surface water (rivers, reservoirs, pools) plus sufficient grassland patches interspersed with forest cover, to support mixed foraging and cover during calving and in winters.”

The study added that Bihar’s Valmiki Tiger Reserve can also be a high-priority site for rhinos reintroduction, but it can accommodate a lesser population (35-40).

Incidentally, the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board in 2019 had decided to reintroduce the one-horned rhino in Corbett, but the project did not see the light of the day.