The Assam Tribune Online (01/01/08)
By Sivasish Thakur
GUWAHATI- In a move that augurs well for the future of the rhino and also the conservation prospects in Manas National Park, four rhinos – two males and two females — from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary would be translocated to Manas on February 12. The rhinos will join three others who had been taken to Manas from Kaziranga in the last two years.
The decision to translocate the four animals to Manas was taken at the fifth meeting of the task force for relocation of rhinos. Manas is expected to get 25-30 rhinos in phases by the end of the translocation programme.
“The translocation exercise will be preceded by a training of the forest personnel on February 10 at Pobitora. The rhinos will be captured on February 11 and transferred to Manas the next day,” Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam, MC Malakar told The Assam Tribune.
The translocation is part of the ambitious Indian Rhino Vision 2020 that seeks to attain a 3,000-strong rhino population distributed over seven protected areas (PAs, i.e. national parks and wildlife sanctuaries) of Assam.
The exercise assumes critical significance for the future of the rhino, as 85 per cent of the State’s rhino population is restricted to a single protected area in Kaziranga (1,855 as per 2006 census), exposing them to stochastic risks.
Pobitora, the other major rhino-bearing habitat, is also overpopulated, sheltering a population of 81 in a just 38-sq km area. The ominous signs of man-rhino conflict are already palpable there.
“The population in these two PAs needs to be reduced both to protect the habitat and to mitigate the increasing man-rhino conflict, as rhinos of Kaziranga and Pobitora have developed a tendency to stray into agricultural areas,” Malakar said.
The translocation to Manas, a World Heritage Site (in danger) has implications for the Park’s conservation prospects as well. The entire rhino population of Manas numbering around 100 was decimated during the prolonged period of social unrest in the 1990s.
“Successful translocation to Manas would imply that the security concerns of the Park have been addressed. The translocation, therefore, is a positive step forward,” Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak, a leading conservation group, said.
Dr Talukdar, who is a member of the task force, said that the security in Manas had improved a lot in recent times, “otherwise the translocation move would not have been feasible”.
The other PAs where translocation would take place in a phased manner are Laokhowa-Burhachapori-Kochmora sanctuary, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Orang National Park. Of these, Orang already has a sizeable rhino population but is in a position to achieve its targeted population of around 100. Laokhowa, too, witnessed a total annihilation of its 50+ rhino population due to rampant poaching in the 1980s.