Manas park set to repopulate rhinoceroses

March 3rd, 2008 - 11:14 am ICT by admin  

By Sanjeeb Baruah
Manas (Assam), March 3 (IANS) The Manas national park, a Unesco world heritage site, is all set to repopulate the greater one horned rhinoceroses seven years after poachers wiped out the species from the sanctuary. The director of the park released the fourth rhinoceros, a one-and-a-half-year-old female, in the Kuribeel area of the Bansbari range Feb 24. Bansbari is part of the core area of the park, which is around 300 km from Guwahati.

“I am delighted to welcome these rhinos to Manas. I am sure that this move will be the beginning of the revival of the rhino population in the park. This will be followed by the wild to wild transfer by Indian Rhino Vision 2020 team,” A.K. Swargiary, director Manas said.

The last rhinoceros in Manas, a female, was killed by poachers in the Kokilabari beat in 2001. Two decades of ethnic strife wreaked havoc on the park and claimed the life of eight forest officers.

Since 2006, four rhinoceros calves raised in captivity have been brought to the park from the Kaziranga national park, another world heritage site in eastern India.

The initiative was part of a plan to reintroduce the species in the park. The Security Assessment Group of the project Indian Rhino Vision 2020, had said in a report in December that 80 percent of the park was safe and fit for release of these animals.

Manas is a repository of 22 critically endangered species and considered one of the world’s richest bio-diversity hotspots, contiguous to the forests of Bhutan. It is home to tigers and elephants and is a designated Project Tiger reserve.

Recently, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that administers the area added to the national park the adjacent forest, also called Manas, and the Ripu-Chirang forest to form the Greater Manas, increasing its effective spread to about 950 sq km, up from 300 sq km.

“The BTC is proud to add this piece of forest to Manas. It is well aware of its responsibilities for the conservation of forests and wildlife and other natural resources of the region,” Kampa Borgoyari, deputy chief of the BTC, said.

“We are striving hard to strike that balance and I am confident that our officers with the support of NGOs will make this happen.”

The BTC’s declaration followed a study conducted by the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and its partner, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), supported by the British government, which strongly recommended the creation of the Greater Manas.

The four rhinoceroses, all orphaned females, were raised at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near the Kaziranga park, a project initiated by WTI and IFAW with support from the forest department. The first three rhinos were transferred to Manas by WTI-IFAW in 2006.

“The rhino is the pride of Assam and I hope our effort will be supplemented by others so that Manas regains its lost glory,” Vivek Menon, executive director, WTI, told IANS.

Rhino Vision found Ucchila, which is about five kilometres from Kuribeel, to be the best habitat for rhinos in the park and earlier had the highest concentration of the animal. It is expected that the four rhinos brought to Manas will prefer this area.

A one-and-a-half-year-old female calf that was released last week was rescued from a tea garden next to the Kaziranga park after its mother was shot dead by poachers in September 2007. It was transported over 300 km to its new home in Manas.

“While conducting the post mortem we realised that the mother was lactating and therefore a calf had to be around and we started looking for it,” Anjan Talukdar, the veterinary officer with WTI-IFAW, said.

And that was indeed the case.

Conservation action commenced at Manas after the signing of an agreement between the Bodo people and the government of India in 2003 and the subsequent formation of BTC.

The responsibility for management of the park now rests with the BTC and the Assam forest department.

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