The birth of a Greater One-horned Rhinoceros calf about ten days ago in Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh, is being seen as proof of continuing success of the programme to reintroduce the species in the habitat that began in 1984.

Starting with a population of seven under the plan, the 27 square kilometre area now hosts 31 rhinos including the new addition. As with several other parts of northern India, this area recorded the presence of Rhinoceros unicornis even in the 19th century, but habitat loss and excessive hunting decimated its numbers. The reintroduction programme, which was actively supported by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, began in a region of the park with an ideal mix of grassland, woodland and wetland.

Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told The Hindu, “The significance of this is that rhinos were translocated from Kaziranga to Dudhwa. The fact that now calves are being born shows that there has been great adaptability as far as the translocated rhinos are concerned. The birth of calves and (tiger) cubs shows protection to be secure.”

Reintroduction and rehabilitation of the Greater One-horned Rhino in Dudhwa is special because it has been undertaken inside a “Project Tiger” area, where the main focus is on the tiger and swamp deer, the Field Director of the Dudhwa National Park, Shailesh Prasad and Assistant Inspector General of Forests, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Sanjay Kumar, said in a note on the ongoing conservation project.

Dudhwa’s rhino revival story began with the decision to translocate six individuals from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam. While one female died during the process at the Guwahati Zoo, two other females died before the programme could take off, leaving only three rhinos, two of them males. The plan was saved with the introduction of four females from Shukla Phanta Reserve in Nepal, which were got in lieu of 16 elephants. A seed population of seven including five females was thus available.

Solar fence protection

The demarcated area for the rhinos was protected with a solar fence. “There is presence of tigers with cubs in the area,” Mr. Prasad said in a telephonic interaction on Monday. During 2010-11, the presence of two tigresses and six cubs was recorded here.

Regular patrolling of the 9 km-by-3 km rhino zone is done using elephants and Forest Department vehicles. Presence of the species is recorded and the compilation of sightings updated at the Divisional and Circle headquarters on a fortnightly basis. The integrity of the fence is also ensured through manual checks, and grasses cut to prevent a short-circuit. The area has developed into a favourite site for tourists who visit on elephant back, the note said.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, also known as the Indian Rhinoceros and Great Indian Rhinoceros, as “Vulnerable”. The listing, based on an assessment made in the year 2008, notes that there was an overall increase in the population of the species, but some populations in Nepal and parts of northeast India were decreasing. There was a continuing decline in the quality of habitat, which, if not addressed, could affect survival of smaller populations and overall species recovery. Over 70 per cent of the rhino population was in the Kaziranga National Park, Assam, rendering it vulnerable to a catastrophic event, IUCN added.