DNA database coming up for Indian rhino

Updated - May 13, 2019 11:55 pm IST

Published - May 13, 2019 09:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Union Environment Ministry has embarked on a project to create DNA profiles of all rhinos in the country.

By 2021, the project’s deadline, the Indian rhino could be the first wild animal species in India to have all its members DNA-sequenced. The project’s proponents, including the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) and the Centre-funded Wildlife Institute of India (WII), said the exercise would be useful in curbing poaching and gathering evidence in wildlife crimes involving rhinos.

There are about 2,600 rhinos in India, with more than 90% of the population concentrated in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park.

Amit Sharma, senior coordinator-Rhino Conservation, WWF-India, said the project would formally be under way in a year. Mr. Sharma said around 60 samples of tissue have been collected so far from some rhinos living outside Kaziranga. “We are also extracting DNA samples from dung,” said Mr. Sharma. “Once the entire project is completed, we’ll have a database that will be hosted in the WII headquarters in Dehradun.”

Once the database is complete, identifying rhinos that were killed or poached would be easier, said Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector-General of Forests. The project is a subset of the Centre’s larger, ongoing rhino conservation programme. Since the 1980s, the government has been trying to move a significant number of rhinos out of Kaziranga in the interest of the species’ conservation, threats from poaching and challenges to their habitat.

Outside Kaziranga, there are about 200 rhinos in West Bengal, 40 in Uttar Pradesh and 1 in Bihar. “We are also trying to have more rhinos in other locations in Assam itself such as Manas National Park and Pobitara Wildlife Sancutary,” said Mr. Dasgupta.

There are three species of rhinos, of which only one — the Indian rhino — is found in the country. The rhinos were once abundant and well-distributed in the country. However poaching reduced its numbers to about “200 wild animals by the end of the 20th century” according to a note by Siddhanta Das, Director-General (Forests), in a note on the National Conservation Strategy for the Indian rhino.

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