With their area restricted to a 27-sq. km enclosure, their increasing number is pushing them to edge

Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh): A fierce turf war is raging among rhinos in the Dudhwa National Park.

With the rhino population rising to 29 with the birth of another calf in mid-September, the fight over food and territory has become intense, say concerned forest officials.

With their area restricted to a 27-sq. km enclosure, located in the South Sonaripur range of the park, the increasing number of the huge animals is literally pushing them to the edge.

Bankey, the oldest male rhino at 27 years, was brought to the park around two decades ago from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam in 1984. He and another male, along with three females, were brought to the park, located in the Lakhimpur-Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh, as part of a plan to reintroduce the species in the Gangetic plains.

Today, Bankey can be proudly called the “great granddaddy” of the rhinoceros population in the park. There are three generations now after him — six adult males, 15 females and seven calves in the enclosure, protected with electrified fencing. Rhinos live up to 60 years.

The enclosure was built to acclimatise the rhinos with the environs before their release into the wild.

However, their rising number has led to deadly fights over food, territory and females, said a forest official. The bull rhinos stage lethal attacks on their rivals in the race for prospective female partners.

“We have to plan for their future. Either the fenced-in area should be increased or the fence opened,” P.P. Singh, deputy director of the park, told IANS.

“How long can one keep the animals inside the fence? Also a big chunk of the rhino area is blocking the movement of other wild animals in the park. They have to go around the enclosure,” Singh said.

Two proposals

Two proposals are currently being considered by the forest department — to create a separate enclosure and/or to expand the existing area. However, both may prove short-term as the electric fencing around the enclosure blocks the movement of other wild animals.

“We also need to have a security arrangement in place in case the rhinos stray outside, and damage crops and property. Adequate compensation has to be given to the affected people,” he said.

The rhino reintroduction was carried out by the Asian Rhino Specialist Group (now Species Survival Commission) of the global NGO International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Besides the overcrowding, the grasslands the giant herbivores feed on are also threatened with sedimentation from the Suheli river that flows along the southern boundary of the park.

This problem started some five years ago due to large-scale stone quarrying upstream in Nepal. Said Singh, “From time to time we have to carry out desiltation work on the river,” which requires additional manpower and money.

“The regular sedimentation changes the pattern of the grass,” while the rising riverbed poses the danger of floods and destruction of the grasslands, he added.

The forest department had planted 14 kinds of plants that rhinos love, apart from what was naturally available. In addition, the area inside the enclosure has seven tubewells to supplement the water supply.

The Dudhwa National Park, spread over 680 sq km, is also home to tigers, leopards and different species of deer, among other animals. — IANS