In an incredible conservation story, a tri-annual census concluded on March 28 registered an uptick in the number of the one-horned rhinoceros in the Kaziranga National Park—an increase of 12 rhinos since 2015. The registered increase comes as a sigh of relief as after losing over 500 rhinoceroses to poaching since the nineties, the average annual loss in the number of rhinos has trickled down steadily.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in the heart of Assam, which has been home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the species, now houses a total of 2,413 rhinos.
This year’s census was carried out across the length and breadth of the park by over 300 government and NGO officials. The numbers reported, if correct, would suggest the park has reached its carrying capacity and the rhino population is healthy and thriving.
However, the conservation effort has not been without controversy, as the centre handed park rangers full military control to keep poaching and hunting in check. About 150 rhinoceroses have been killed for their horns in 2006, but by 2015, the death toll for human hunters rose in comparison to the number of animals killed. To eliminate poaching, especially in case of rhinos straying outside the perimeters of the protected reserve, violent eviction drives against encroachers have led to over a hundred deaths caused by police firing.
Officials however expected a larger number and believe there is a high probability the rhinos were undercounted, owing to poor visibility and camouflaging tall grass.
“The results indicate that there has been undercounting and there are plans to conduct the census once more next year,” said N.K. Vasu, chief wildlife warden of the state of Assam. The last census carried out in 2015 tracked an increase of 111 rhinos in two years.
In any case, the news of this increase in the rhino population is indicative of the progress of conservation efforts. By the 1970s only a couple hundred of the endangered species remained in the national reserve and the park is now again a proud residence of the one-horned rhinoceros, thereby, successfully helping bring a species back from the cusp of extinction.