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Indian Rhino Vision 2020

The greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species 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, and also may have existed in Myanmar, southern China, and Indochina. Indian rhinos were common in northwestern India and Pakistan until around 1600, but disappeared from that region shortly thereafter and declined sharply throughout their range over the next three hundred years. Come the turn of the 20th Century, the species was on the brink of extinction.

Today, wild populations of this species currently number approximately 3,270 individuals and are found in northern India and Nepal. Close to 85% of the total population occurs in India, with about 75% in the state of Assam. One protected area in particular, Kaziranga National Park, holds an estimated 70% of the world population. The other protected areas in Assam where this species occurs include the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Orang National Park and Manas National Park. It also occurs in Dudwha National Park in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Gorumara National Park in the state of West Bengal. In Nepal, approximately more than 500 greater one-horned rhinos occur in Chitwan National Park, Bardiya National Park and the Suklaphanta Wildlife Sanctuary. The species is increasing in number once again, despite the continued threats of poaching and habitat loss.  
Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 is a partnership the Assam Forest Department, the Bodoland Territorial Council, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Our ambitious goal is to attain a wild population of at least 3,000 greater one-horned rhinos in the Indian state of Assam - spread over seven protected areas - by the year 2020. In order to achieve this, the existing population will have to increase by over 600 rhinos in the next eight years, which amounts to an average annual increase of about 3%.
gohr-translocation-1Phase 1 of IRV 2020 was conducted from 2005 to 2008. It included intensive fieldwork to improve levels of protection for existing populations. Phase 2 began with the first rhino translocations from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary to Manas National Park in April 2008. The original rhino population of Manas National Park was extirpated between 1996 and 2004 during a period of deadly civil conflict. The last rhino seen in Manas was in 1996. However, Manas remains an icon among India's many spectacular wildlife reserves, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It is home to tigers, pygmy hogs, and golden langurs as well as elephants, wild buffalo and Indian bison. 
gohr-translocation-2Significant progress was made implementing Phase 2 of IRV 2020 during the first few months of 2012. On the morning of January 17, 2011, four rhinos were captured at the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, representing the first attempt  in the history of the IRV 2020 program to transport this many animals in a single operation. A lone adult female, lone adult male, and a mother with a male juvenile calf were immobilized, radio-collared, transferred into crates and lifted onto trucks. The Assam police escorted the trucks during the journey to Manas to provide additional security. The four rhinos were released in the Bansbari range of Manas early the next morning, within 24 hours of having been darted the previous day.
gohr-translocation-3On February 19, 2012, the first rhino translocation from Kaziranga National Park was undertaken. Another four animals (one male and three females) were captured during the day and safely transported that night to Manas. As in previous translocations, all animals were fitted with radio transmitters prior to their release so that their movements can be regularly monitored in the months ahead. The final translocations of 2012 were undertaken on March 11.  Another four rhinos – two adult females and two juvenile males - were captured in the Baguri range of Kaziranga and transported to Manas. Two additional rhinos that had been rescued from Kaziranga several years earlier by the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation were also released around this time, but the CWRC did not coordinate the releases with the IRV 2020 partners or radio-collar the animals so that they could be tracked. The table below documents translocations of greater one-horned rhinos to Manas National Park that have taken place to date under the auspices of the IRV 2020 program.  
Date Translocated from Pobitora WS Translocated from Kaziranga NP Translocated from CWRC Reintroduced to Manas NP
2006     1 1
2007     2 2
March 2008     1  
April 12, 2008 2     2
Dec. 28, 2010 2     2
January 17, 2011 4     4
Feb. 19, 2012   4   4
March 11, 2012   4   4
March 11, 2012     2 2
Totals 8 8 6 22

The first really good news came in the late summer of 2012. One of the females that had been translocated to Manas earlier in the year gave birth to the first calf born in the national park since rhinos reintroductions began!. The mother was already pregnant when she was translocated, but this does not appear to have had any adverse effects on the baby.  Two more births followed early in 2013. Rhino #8 was one of the four animals translocated to Manas from Pobitora in January 2011. Since Indian rhino pregnancies last about 15 months, this means that the calf was conceived well after this female arrived in her new home - another significant milestone for the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 program!  Rhino #17 was moved from Kaziranga to Manas in 2012 and, like the first translocated female to give birth subsequent to the move, was already pregnant when captured.  She was sighted in late March with her new calf.  Three births within less than a year is a positive sign that the translocated animals are adapting well to their new home in Manas.
Unfortunately, this good news has been tempered by bouts of poaching.  Seven rhinos have been poached since 2010.  One of the adults just killed by poachers was Rhino #17, the last female to give birth.  Fortunately, her calf managed to escape, was eventually rescued by park rangers, and is now being hand-raised in a protected facility.  The last rhino lost was on December 31, 2013.  Translocations to Manas have been stopped until measures can be taken to improve park management and ranger patrolling, and, of course, to get poaching undercontrol.       


Generous support for the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 program comes from the World Wide Fund for Nature, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Amersfoort Zoo, CERZA, Denver Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Mesker Park Zoo, Miami Metro Zoo, the Taronga Conservation Society, Zoo Basel and the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Photo credits:

  1. Greater one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park (Susie Ellis/IRF)

  2. Tranquilized greater one-horned rhino being prepared for translocation (Dipankhar Ghose/WWF)

  3. Tranquilized greater one-horned rhino being prepared for translocation (Dipankhar Ghose/WWF)

  4. Rhinos released in Manas National Park (Bibhab Talukdar/IRF)

  5. Mother and first calf born in Manas as part of IRV 2020 program(Sande/WWF)