Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Manas National Park in Assam has received its fourth one-horned rhino, seven years after its approximately 100-strong population was wiped out by poachers.

On February 24, the one-and-a-half-year-old female rhino was released in the Kuribeel area of the Bansbari range in the park.

The four rhinos, all orphaned female, rescued by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), its partner the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and the Assam Forest Department, were hand-raised at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation near the Kaziranga National Park. The first three rhinos were transferred to Manas by the WTI-IFAW in 2006.

Releasing the rhinos, A.K. Swargiary, Director of the park, expressed the hope that this action would mark the beginning of the revival of the rhino population there. This would be followed by wild-to-wild transfer by the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 team.

The last native rhino in the park, a female, was killed by poachers on the Kokilabari beat in 2001 after two decades of ethnic strife, which left most of the park devastated and claimed the lives of eight forest officials.

Ucchila, about 5 km from Kuribeel, was considered the best habitat for the rhino and had the highest concentration of the animal. It is expected that the four female rhinos would move to this area.

The young rhino which was released in Manas last week was rescued from a tea garden next to the Kaziranga National Park after its mother was shot dead by poachers in September 2007. It was transported for over 300 km to its new home.

Park secure

The Security Assessment Group of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020, in its update on security assessment, said 80 per cent of the Manas National Park was secure and that it was safe to release the animals there. Manas is considered one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, contiguous to forests of Bhutan. Home to tigers and elephants, it is also a designated Project Tiger Reserve. A repository of 22 critically endangered species, Manas was declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation in 1985.