Shivani Azad, The Times of India | November 26, 2019
DEHRADUN: The Uttarakhand State Wildlife Board has decided to reintroduce the one-horned rhinoceros in Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), around a dozen of which will be brought from Kaziranga in Assam and West Bengal.
The decision was taken in the 14th meeting of the Uttarakhand Wildlife Board on Tuesday in the presence of chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and state forest minister Harak Singh Rawat.
CTR, sprawling over an area of 1,200sqkm, used to have a rhinoceros population a few centuries ago. According to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the rhinos became “locally extinct” due to “anthropogenic pressure”.
The animals were all “hunted out” from the landscape as the grassland was open to agriculture back then and poachers exploited the species, eventually wiping them out, the WII explained.
A proposal was submitted on Tuesday by the WII before the State Wildlife Board, stating that the CTR could easily house up to 80 to 100 rhinoceros.
The ‘rhinoceros unicornis’, also called the great Indian rhinoceros, falls under vulnerable category in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and is in high demand globally due to its single horn.
Speaking with TOI, Dr YV Jhala, the senior scientist spearheading the project from WII, said, “The rhino population is severely threatened. It is critically endangered because of its horn. So now, we have to create a ‘safety net population’, as all our rhino population is concentrated in Assam and West Bengal. A research by the WII found CTR to be a perfectly conductive habitat for the rhino. With the Shivalik range on one side and the Himalayas on the other, CTR can act as a nice basin for the rhinos to stay in. This topography will also ensure that the animals don’t wander into human habitation to raid crops, minimizing chances of man-animal conflict.”
According to sources, voluntary village protection forces will also be formed by the state board in areas where man-animal conflict is frequent.
According to experts, the presence of rhinos in CTR will also help boost the population of small herbivores like the deer, ensuring more prey for carnivores. The tiger reserve currently has a “dwindled population” of 50 to 60 hog deer. Without the presence of a mega herbivore like the rhino, the Terai belt will be left with coarse grass, which cannot be digested by smaller animals.
“The rhino is known as ‘habitat architecture’, as they make a habitat suitable for smaller animals like the hog deer or the barking deer. Rhinos, like elephants and buffalos, are coarse feeders and can digest grass that other animals cannot. The move will help the entire nation in conserving the rhinoceros,” said Rajiv Bhartari, chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand.
The country has around 2,500 rhinoceros left, most of which are in Kaziranga and the rest in West Bengal. Forest minister Harak Singh Rawat said, “We want CTR to be one of the best reserves in the country. Not just the rhino, sooner or later, we will introduce other animals too, as per the advice of scientists and forest department officers.”