Removal of rhino from IUCN Red List surprises conservationists

By Sanjeeb Baruah, IANS,

New Delhi : The removal of the one-horned rhinoceros by an international NGO from its endangered species list will not affect the animals in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, their main home, park officials said, but conservationists warned of an impending doom.

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The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) removed the one-horned rhinoceros from its Red List of endangered species at a meeting on Oct 6 in Barcelona, Spain, saying that the animal has shown signs of recovery in range countries following strict security measures.

IUCN’s assessment is critical since it determines allocation of financial as well as other aid for protection of a particular species in a specific geographical area.

Conservationists said that though India’s rhino population has increased in recent years, poaching is still a major concern. The latest decision would only add to their insecurity.

Shrinking of habitats is already pushing these animals into the hands of poachers, they said, while their rising numbers in some areas also led to food scarcity.

Kaziranga park director S.N. Buragohain said that the demotion would not make any difference. “They may have taken a decision looking at a global perspective, but all the rhino areas will not have an identical impact by this assessment, since different areas have different set of problems.”

“Kaziranga rhinos are safe, in fact their numbers have increased to around 2,000 from the 1,800 counted earlier,” he added.

But an estimate prepared by the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) showed that at least 23 rhinoceroses have been killed by poachers last year alone, considered a very high number in recent years.

Rhinos are also threatened by other factors, for instance “a single epidemic could wipe out almost three quarters of the world’s rhino population that inhabit the Kaziranga park”, said Vivek Menon, executive director of WTI.

“Poaching occurs in waves,” said P.C. Bhattacharjee of Guwahati University. “The toll last year was a sharp increase from the single digit number of the previous years.”

Besides, flood is an annual phenomenon in Kaziranga. Each year, a variety of wild animals, including rhinos, drown in the park, said Bhattacharjee.

Rhinos are also found in the Manas and Orang national parks and the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.

Nepal has the world’s second largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros after India. According to a census carried out in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park this year, there were 408 rhinoceros in the reserve, up from 372 in 2005.

However, the Bardia National Park in Nepal, which also has a significant rhino population, has been the target of poachers of late.

The Kaziranga and Chitwan national parks are considered some of the rare success stories in conservation history.

Species like the common leopard, fishing cat, sambar, Chinese pangolin and greater slow Loris, which are also found in India, are facing increased threats, IUCN said.

The group warned that one in four species of mammals in the world are facing extinction.

“How can any species be termed as of ‘least concern’ with the world’s biodiversity facing unprecedented threats of climate change, deforestation and poaching,” asked Menon, a member of the IUCN Rhino Specialist Group. He expressed surprise at the decision.