Enviornment

In rhino country, a division to boost conservation efficiency

The News

  • The Kaziranga National Park has been split into the Eastern Assam and Biswanath division, with the Brahmaputra coming in between.

 

About the division

  • In August 2018, Assam’s Environment and Forest Department issued a notification saying the KNP had been split into two divisions:
    • The existing Eastern Assam Wildlife
    • The new Biswanath Wildlife
  • The Brahmaputra separates the two divisions straddling a total area of 1,030 sq.km.
  • The creation of the Biswanath Wildlife Division, with headquarters at Biswanath Chariali in northeastern Assam, will entail relocating the Central Assam Afforestation Division at Hojai 160 km away.
  • In fact, the afforestation division has been renamed a wildlife division.
  • All these years, the KNP was being administered by the Eastern Assam Wildlife Division with headquarters at Bokakhat on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
  • This division was formed in 1966, two years before the State government designated Kaziranga a national park, though it was given the official status in 1974.
  • The Eastern Assam Wildlife Division had five ranges — Eastern or Agratoli, Kaziranga or Kohora, Western or Bagori, Burapahar and Northern — until the split.
  • All except the Northern Range are on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra.
  • Now, the Northern Range (with an area of 401 sq.km) has been upgraded to the Biswanath Wildlife Division with four ranges of its own — Eastern or Gamiri, Central or BiswanathGhat, Western or Nagshankar and Crime Investigation Range.

 

Reasons for splitting

  • The division has been for intensive wildlife management.
  • Much of the rhino poaching was being done from the northern side of the Brahmaputra, which was difficult to manage for officers posted on the southern side.
  • Splitting the KNP into two divisions means there will now be two divisional forest officers under one director (based in Bokakhat near the Agratoli range), ensuring better vigil.
  • Kaziranga will now have many more hands to work for wildlife protection.
  • The KNP currently has staff strength of nearly 1,300.
  • Wildlife officials estimate that the park would require at least 3,000 men if they were to be deployed in eight-hour shifts.

 

About the Kaziranga National Park

  • Kaziranga had an area of 232sq.m when it began its journey as a proposed reserve forest on June 1, 1905.
  • Kaziranga National Park lies partly in Golaghat District and partly in Nagaon District of Assam.
  • It is the oldest park in Assam, which now covers an area of 430 Sqkms along the river Brahmaputra on the North and the KarbiAnglong hills on the South.
  • Kaziranga National Park a world heritage site is famous for the Great Indian one horned rhinoceros; the landscape of Kaziranga is of sheer forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, marshes & shallow pools.
  • It has been declared as National Park in 1974.
  • It is inhabited by the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses, as well as many mammals, including tigers, elephants, panthers and bears, and thousands of birds.
  • The KNP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
  • The National Highway 37 passes through the park area and tea estates, hemmed by table-top tea bushes.
  • According to the last rhino census in March, the KNP has an estimated 2,413 rhinos.
  • The park also has 57% of the world’s wild water buffalo population, one of the largest groups of Asian elephants and 21 Royal Bengal tigers per 100sq.km – arguably the highest striped cat density.

 

About the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros

  • The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros populations are increasing overall due to strict protection, especially in India.
  • However, some populations are decreasing, especially in Nepal and parts of northeastern India.
  • The species is currently confined to fewer than ten sites, with a total extent of occurrence of less than 20,000 km².
  • Historically, the Indian rhinoceros once existed across the entire northern part of the Indian subcontinent, along the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins, from Pakistan to the Indian-Burmese border, including parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
  • It may also have existed in Myanmar, southern China, and Indochina, though this is uncertain.
  • Currently, the Indian rhinoceros exists in a few small subpopulations in the Nepal and India (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam).

 

Threats

  • This species is harvested illegally for its horn and other products used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
  • This species declined to near extinction in the early 1900s, primarily due to widespread conversion of alluvial plains grasslands to agricultural development, which led to human-rhino conflicts and easier accessibility for hunters.
  • Sport hunting became common in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Poaching, mainly for the use of the horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine has remained a constant and the success is precarious without continued and increased support for conservation efforts.
  • The species is inherently at risk because over 70% of its population occurs at a single site, Kaziranga National Park.
  • This area, is subject to poaching and tensions with the surrounding high human population due to human-wildlife conflicts (including conflicts with rhinos).
  • The level of poaching in Kaziranga has generally not been at a level to prevent the ongoing increase in the population, but constant vigilance is required.
  • Clearly, any catastrophic event in Kaziranga (such as disease, civil disorder, poaching, habitat loss, etc) would have a devastating impact on the status of this species.

 

IUCN Status

  • The species has been included in the caetegory of vulnerable species under IUCN red list.
  • The species has been included on CITES Appendix I since 1975.
  • The Indian and Nepalese governments have taken major steps towards Indian Rhinoceros conservation, especially with the help of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other non-governmental organizations.
  • Indian Rhino populations occur almost exclusively within and around protected areas.
  • In India, the species occurs in Kaziranga National Park (World Heritage Site), Manas National Park (World Heritage Site in danger), Dudhwa National Park (re-introduced population), Karteniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Orang National Park, Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gorumara National Park.
  • With the support of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, an Indian Rhino Vision 2020 has been developed.

 

Way forward

  • Translocating rhinos to bolster struggling populations.
  • Start new populations;
  • Improve security around rhino populations and reduce poaching;
  • Assesse habitat status and management needs;
  • Expand available habitat through active management;
  • Improving protected area infrastructure;
  • Train staff in specific rhino conservation techniques;
  • Reducing human-wildlife conflicts and involve local people in rhino conservation;
  • Implement education and awareness programmes.
  • Overall, there is a need for further reintroductions, thereby reducing the concentration of over 70% of the individuals in one large population.

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