One-horned rhino calf welcomed by conservationists, Assamese in celebration of a concerted effort to save the species

The newborn is seen as a big win for conservationists and efforts towards protecting the critically-threatened rhino species — the pride of Assam and the Assamese people.

Laisri has become a grandmother – her daughter R3A has given birth to a calf at the Manas National Park in Assam, and the birth of the newborn rhino warrants a celebration in the state that is presently witnessing widespread protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The six-year-old rhino has become a mother for the first time. The calf was born on 4 January, and authorities have been documenting its movements since it was born.

"R3A was born to Laisri in 2013, and we are happy to see her becoming a mother now. Laisri was relocated to Manas from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary through the wild-to-wild translocation procedure. The calf's gender is yet known, but our initial observations suggest that both the mother and baby are doing well in the wild," Deba Kumar Dutta, Landscape Coordinator (BHL, Manas Conservation Area), WWF-India and member of IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.

The Manas National Park that reclaimed its UNESCO (Natural) World Heritage Site tag in 2011 is now home to 42 rhinos, including rescued and rehabilitated. The birth of a rhino calf is seen as a big win for conservationists, and their efforts towards protection of the critically threatened one-horned rhinoceros species, the pride of Assam and Assamese people.

 One-horned rhino calf welcomed by conservationists, Assamese in celebration of a concerted effort to save the species

One-horned rhino calf in Assam National Park. Image: Author provided

“Manas has revived because of the rhino introduction process. It has been more than a decade since we translocated two male rhinos to Manas from Pobitora in April 2008. It was a wild-to-wild rhino translocation. In 2006, rhinos were also brought to Manas from the rehabilitation centre,” said Dutta.

In the early eighties and nineties, heavy poaching had wiped out the entire rhino population in Manas – prior to 1989, an estimate of more than 100 rhinos were living in the national park. In 2005, Assam government with support from the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Bodoland Territorial Council launched the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020) – a programme to reintroduce rhinos in protected areas – where they had fallen to poacher’s bullets. In Assam, the rhino population is distributed in four major protected areas – Manas National Park, Kaziranga National Park, the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.

"Translocation is the intentional release of the animal to the wild in an attempt to establish, re-establish or augment the population. Translocation of a rhino is not an easy process, and it has to follow strict international and national protocols," explained Dutta, adding that the rhino translocation programme has also contributed to the mixing of genes as rhinos from Kaziranga and Pobitora have been introduced in Manas National Park.

From 2008-2012, 10 rhinos have been translocated to Manas from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, and eight others from Kaziranga National Park. Along with the wild rhinos, 17 rehabilitated rhinos from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) have been introduced in the national park since 2006.

"Two more sub-adult rhinos are soon to be translocated from Kaziranga to Manas," informed Dutta, also explaining how the authorities keep a track of the rhinos in the park. "When they were first brought here, the rhinos were radio-collared, but once they were established, they have always been wild and free. It is a natural process of monitoring that we follow – it is ID-based, and also through distinctive body features, or through their movement pattern. Camera trap monitoring is also done, their ranges are well identified."

One-horned rhino calf in Assam National Park. Image: Author provided

One-horned rhino calf in Assam National Park. Image: Author provided

Tourism was almost non-existent or limping in Manas from 2003-2008, but with the revival of the national park, there has been a giant increase in Assam’s tourism revenue - till 2018, the revenue collection by Assam government stood at almost Rs 1 crore. The boost in tourism has also offered livelihood opportunities to the fringe community.

The increase in rhino population has further led to an increase in tiger and elephant population – at present, as many as 30 tigers are living in Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve, with the state government using the M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers - Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) application for better monitoring, surveillance and conservation of wildlife.

India holds 75 percent of world’s wild Indian rhino population, and due to multiple conservation efforts, the rhino population in Assam grew about 71% in between 1999 to 2018. According to Dutta, it has been a challenging task to re-establish the rhino population in Manas in the last decade - the Indian rhinos continue to be globally threatened due to habitat conversion, fragmentation and poaching.

"It has been a silent initiative to revive the rhino population at the Manas National Park, and every birth makes a difference. But the rhino population and the fragile habitat of Manas need much more attention from all stakeholders of the society."

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