The success story of ‘Project Rhino’ of India

Project Rhino of India| According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the greater one-horned rhino or the Indian rhino is the largest of the rhino species. This rhino species was widely spread across the whole northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Its population dwindled and was almost pushed to extinction. This happened majorly due to two reasons. First, they were hunted for sports and second, for the horn which is believed to have medicinal purposes.

one horned rhino
One-horned Rhinoceros at Chitwan National Park| Courtesy: Lurey Rohit/Wikimedia Commons

Currently, almost 85% of the world’s one-horned rhino population is concentrated in Assam. With, 65% of the population being found in Kaziranga National Park, Assam.

Read more: Greater One-Horned Rhino | Species | WWF

Since the 1990s, poaching of the one-horned rhino has been a major environmental issue in Kaziranga and Manas National Park along with some other grassland regions in Assam. Furthermore, the population of the rhino dropped to as low as ‘three’ in 2015. 

Project Rhino

Project Rhino or the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 was launched in 2005 in an effort to attain a 3000 population of wild rhinos in Assam distributed over seven of its protected areas by the year 2020. The Indian Rhino Vision 2020 was implemented by the Department of Environment and Forests of the Government of Assam.

The programme was supported by WWF-India, WWF AREAS (Asian Rhino and Elephants Action Strategy) Programme, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), Save the Rhino Campaign of Zoological Institutions Worldwide, and a number of local Non-governmental organizations.

Read more: One Horned Rhino at Kaziranga | Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros

Rhino translocation

The first phase of the programme was from July 2005 to June 2008 which targeted the improvement of rhino protection in all sources and protected areas. It also translocated rhinos from Pobitora and Kaziranga to Manas National Park where they were protected and monitored. Pobitora had the highest density of rhinos, with more than 90 rhinos in less than 18 square kilometers. Therefore, to minimize competition and the chance of loss from diseases the decision to spread its population among other parks was taken.

The program came to an end after its eight round of translocation. According to WWF-India, with this last leg of wild-to-wild translocation under IRV2020, in 2021 a total of 22 rhinos have been translocated to Manas National Park from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (12) and Kaziranga National Park (10).

The success of the project

The recovery of the one-horned rhino is one of the greatest conservation success stories in Asia. The Indian Rhino Vision 2020 came to a conclusion in April 2021 with the translocation of two rhinos from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam to Manas National Park, Assam marking the eighth round of Rhino translocation under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020.

With the help of The Indian Rhino Vision, rhinos are now found in seven protected areas in India. These regions are Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary (Assam), Orang National Park (Assam), Kaziranga National Park (Assam), Manas National Park (Assam), Jaldapara National Park (West Bengal), Gorumara National Park (West Bengal) and Dudhwa National Park (Uttar Pradesh). 

Till 2022, there has been a 167% population increase in one-horned rhinos since the 1980s. The Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) has announced that the number of one-horned rhinos in India, Nepal, and Bhutan has increased to 4,014 individuals after a survey in 2022. Almost 65% of the rhino population is in Kaziranga with 2,613 individuals.

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