Conserving Greater one-horned rhinos
Rhinoceros unicornis‘uni’ meaning one and ‘cornis’ meaning horn in Latin
Something of a conservation success story
[Extract from Save the Rhino International article, first published December 2020]
Once so common that they were referred to as ‘agricultural pests’, in the early 1900s the species numbers had dwindled to fewer than 200. Recognising the looming threat of extinction, Indian and Nepalese authorities put strict protections in place and enabled the Greater one-horned rhino to recover to approximately 2,500 animals by 2005. An incredible achievement.
However, in the intervening years, large swathes of habitat were lost to development, fragmenting the range of the species. In Assam, the species’ stronghold, rhinos were found in only three protected areas; the risk of a disease or a natural disaster decimating the population was high. For the species to thrive, more habitat had to be found.
In 2005, conservationists came together to develop a long-term strategy to manage the species. Their vision was ambitious; to build a 3,000-strong wild population of Greater one-horned rhinos by 2020, spread across seven sites in the state of Assam. The Indian Rhino Vision 2020 was born.
The project was never going to be easy. To achieve the goal, rhinos would have to be translocated out of Kaziranga in difficult seasonal conditions, across fragile roads. Furthermore, security knowledge and resources would need to be improved across the region.
Between 2008 and 2012, 18 rhinos were translocated to Manas National Park, six hours west of Kaziranga and another eight rhinos were introduced to Manas by the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation. But, with a significant rise in poaching across Assam in 2012 and 2013 translocations stopped for the rhinos' safety and only resumed in February 2020 when the area could be fully secured.
Thankfully, since 2009, the Greater one-horned rhino population in the Park has more than doubled; 20 calves have been born, including the first second-generation birth in October 2017 – a sure sign that the rhinos are adapting well to their new home!
Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic has been a huge challenge for the project, causing a number of setbacks, not least postponed translocations due in April 2020, but today there are significantly more Greater one-horned rhinos populating four protected areas across Assam.
The initial target of 3,000 rhinos in seven areas may not have been met, but Assam’s rhino population is in a much stronger state, more knowledge has been gained, and the team is continuing to reach for the goal of 3,000 animals in the near future.
At the end of 2020, the total Greater one-horned population was 3,588.
For more information about the Greater one-horned rhino, head to Save the Rhino's Fact File. And if you'd like to get involved why not join Save the Rhino as a volunteer, fundraiser or member