Rhino orphans return to the wild in India

 photo ©Idris Ahmed/IFAW-WTI
Monday, 12 March, 2012
Kaziranga (Assam)

Two orphaned rhinos--Maju and Raja--are on their way back to the wild in northeast India, after several years under the care of the Assam Forest Department (AFD) and International Fund for Animal WelfareWildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI). Covering a 450-km journey from one UNESCO World Heritage Site to another, the two will be a part of the crucial repopulation programme in Manas--that lost its entire rhino population to poachers.

Maju was orphaned in an unfortunate incident in February 2009, when his mother charged at a team of researchers and had to be killed by forest guards protecting them. Raja was found alone in January 2008, dehydrated and weak, with the whereabouts of his mother unknown.

Both incidents occurred in Kaziranga National Park--a World Heritage that hosts over 70% of the world’s greater one-horned rhino population.

The calves were admitted to the IFAW-WTI-AFD run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), where they were hand-raised by experienced veterinarians and animal keepers. Now between three and four years of age, the two healthy males will be released in Manas National Park, to play their roles in establishing a viable population to aid long-term survival of the species.

“Some of the most interesting and pioneering conservation and welfare initiatives have taken wings in Assam. The pairing of rehabilitation of orphan animals in the wild and repopulation is one of those. It combines individual animal welfare and conservation and proves that every individual matters,” said Suresh Chand, IFS, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Assam. 

Historically found across the Brahmaputra valley, viable populations of the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) in Assam are currently confined to Kaziranga, Orang NP and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. The species faces threats from poachers, in addition to conflicts with locals and habitat loss.

“The current condition of the greater one-horned rhinoceros is like an ‘all-eggs-in-one-basket’ syndrome,” said Vivek Menon, Director, Southern Asia and a member of IUCN-SSC Rhino Specialist Group. “They are found in certain other pockets in India and Nepal. With this initiative we have an opportunity to return rhinos like Maju and Raja--who would otherwise be dead or have to spend life in captivity--back to the wild; more crucially to Manas to help establish a new population there.

Maju and Raja follow three rhinos that have been moved from CWRC and released in Manas by the authorities assisted by IFAW-WTI since 2006, kickstarting the crucial rhino reintroduction programme in the World Heritage. Rhinos are also being added in Manas through wild-to-wild relocations from Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora WidlifeSanctuary.

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