The ‘Kaziranga model’ of conservation has come to the fore on World Rhino Day 2023. Measuring about 1,300 sq. km, Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve has one of the highest concentrations of anti-poaching camps compared to similar biodiverse areas in South Asia and Africa.
Kaziranga has a total of 223 anti-poaching camps. This, officials of Assam Forest Department’s wildlife wing said, works out to one surveillance camp every 5.82 sq. km.
An anti-poaching camp has at least three personnel guarding a specific area, one of them often from a vantage point atop the camp. Many greater one-horned rhinoceroses wallow in waterbodies close to these camps.
The 19,485-sq. km Kruger National Park in South Africa has one game ranger per 30 sq. km, officials said. The park is home to both the white and the black rhino.
Other rhino-bearing areas such as Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Etosha National Park in Namibia have fewer guards than Kaziranga, which houses 2,613 rhinos (2022 census), about 70% of the world’s population of one-horned rhinos.
“The Kaziranga model of conservation remains unparalleled in the world due to its time-tested strategy of investing in foot soldiers. This, combined with its unique landscape with a multitude of habitats and a sense of national pride has helped sustain Kaziranga’s outstanding universal value for more than 117 years,” Sonali Ghosh, Kaziranga’s first woman field director told The Hindu on Friday.
Unlike other rhino-bearing areas of Assam such as Manas National Park, where the animal was wiped out in the 1990s, Kaziranga has enjoyed the support of the local people, many of whom take pride in being the rhino’s neighbour.
Manas now has about 40 rhinos, all translocated from Kaziranga and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary under a repopulation programme conducted for more than a decade since 2006.
Threat from poachers
The protection of the rhino has also been a top priority of the State government, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
“Synonymous with the identity of Assam, rhinos are cherished members of the State’s rich faunal diversity. In the last few years, we have made consistent efforts in this regard, which resulted in zero poaching cases for the first time (2022),” he said, calling for a pledge on World Rhino Day to always champion the cause of saving the herbivore.
Poachers, however, struck this year killing a rhino in Kaziranga and three in Manas, and sawing off their horns. At least six people have been arrested in subsequent drives against wildlife crime by the State police and the Special Rhino Protection Force.
Wildlife officials said the situation has been more or less under control in a State that saw poachers killing 190 rhinos between 2000 and 2021, the highest – 27 each – in 2013 and 2014.
“Rhino will always remain a protection-dependent species due to demands for its horn in the international market. Protection and intelligence gathering has to be proactive to secure its future,” Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, the Assam-based chair of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission said.
Apart from poachers, the grassland ecosystems of the rhino-bearing areas of India and Nepal are facing a major threat from invasive plant species, he said.
“Alien species such as mimosa, chromolaena, and ipomoea are suffocating the vegetation rhinos and other herbivores survive on. I feel further focus is needed to deal with this threat,” Mr. Talukdar said.