A census held earlier this month has revealed that there are about 50 rhinoceros at the Gorumara National Park in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, the highest number in over 100 years, forest officials said.

 “During the census we found that the number of rhinoceros has increased to 50. It is encouraging as the number is the highest in the Gorumara National Park and the adjoining areas over the past 100 years. Our efforts of conservation have paid off,” N C Bahuguna, State’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, (Wildlife) told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The number as per the census in 2012 was about 40, he said.

Mr. Bahuguna said that, interestingly, rhinoceros were located in areas outside the Gorumara National Park, in forests of Baikunthpur and Chapramari in the State’s Jalpaiguri district.

Other than Gorumara, the Jaldapara National Park in the district has a large rhino habitat in the State - about 180, the second largest habitat one-horned rhinoceros in the country after Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

“While Assam has one success story, we in the West Bengal have two success stories at Jaldapara and Gorumara,” Mr. Bahuguna said, adding that no unnatural death of rhinoceros was reported from the forest reserves of the State over the past two years.

 The only concern of forest officials is the skewed ratio of male-female rhinos in the area. Ideally there should be three female rhinoceros for a male rhinoceros. In the census carried out in 2012, there were 14 adults and 11 females, and the rest included sub-adult males, females and calves. The male-female population during this census is yet to be determined.

The two-day census exercise , conducted by the State Forest department  earlier this month, focused on direct sightings of the animal in about 110 sq. km area, which includes the national park as well.

Poaching a threat

The Kaziranga National Park recorded an increase of 39 rhinos in 2013 after losing about 125 of them to poaching, high flood and natural death between January 2012 and March 26, 2013, when the last two-day census was concluded in the park.

In 2013 Census, 2,329 rhinos were counted at KNP, a world heritage site and famous for one-horned rhinos. In 2012, Kaziranga, which has the world’s largest one-horned rhino population, recorded 2,290 rhinos.

The last rhino census for the entire state of Assam was conducted in 2012 and the total rhino population in the state was found to be 2329, an increase of 304 rhinos over 2009 population. The rhino census is conducted every three years. However, in Kaziranga a special census was taken up in 2013 in view of spurt in poaching and high flood.

Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, who is the chair of the IUCN Asian Rhino Specialist Group and Secretary General of Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation told The Hindu: “While the increase of rhino population in the State is certainly encouraging, unabated poaching is a matter of serious concern. This year, the poachers have killed 12 rhinos since January. Beside poaching some long-term threat like growth in invading species resulting in fodder crisis for rhinos in Kaziranga needs special and urgent intervention.”

He said under India Rhino Vision Programme 2020, aimed at aimed at increasing the total population to 3,000 by 2020, 18 rhinos were translocated to Manas National Park — 10 from the Pabitora wildlife sanctuary and eight from Kaziranga since the programme began in 2008.