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Rhinos grow, home shrinks
- Feb 21 date for census

Alipurduar Jan. 11: The foresters are upbeat about the increasing number of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary but what is a source of worry for them is the deteriorating state of their habitat.

The forest department, while carrying out a three-day rhino census in the sanctuary starting from February 21, will try to identify the problems the habitat is facing, mainly because of the drying up of wallows that are essential to the animal’s survival.

Ujjwal Ghosh, the divisional forest officer of the wildlife division-III, said besides counting and identifying individual rhinos, the census will concentrate on enriching and extending the habitat. “We have to recover the wallows, which got silted up and where rhinos prefer to spend a lot of time to cover themselves with mud for protection from ticks and other parasites.”

The other problem that the foresters are having to grapple with is the rising population of the rhino in Jaldapara. Poaching had decreased the number of rhinos in Jaldapara to 15 in 1985. After heightened vigil and stiff resistance, the number reached 24 by 1988.

“According to the census report of 2006, there are at least 108 rhinos in Jaldapara and we expect further increase this year,” said Ghosh.

The officer said with the rhino population increasing, problems were cropping up as the area of the sanctuary had remained the same at 216 square kilometres.

“The present population is manageable but we have to regenerate the grasslands that have been depleted and new grass will have to be planted,” he said.

In some cases, the department is thinning the canopy of trees in order to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to generate undergrowth and grass. One other problem is the erection of an embankment along the Torsa flowing past the sanctuary which prevents water from entering and enriching the wallows.

On the census, Ghosh said the time and place of each rhino sighting would be recorded. Marks on the animals and the shape of their horns will be marked as well for identification.

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