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India urged to frame rhino policy

- CITES document to be discussed in March

Guwahati, Jan. 16: An international wildlife conservation group wants India to frame a national rhino policy.

The country, which boasts of the biggest population of the one-horned rhino, still doesn’t have a national strategy to look after conservation efforts in its rhino habitats.

But this is something India needs to do, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has said.

The suggestion comes at a time when the rhino population in Assam faces an unprecedented crisis given the success rate of poachers, who have killed 24 rhinos in the state in the past 13 months.

“Countries such as Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia have already developed their national rhino conservation strategies,” Bibhab Talukdar, who chairs the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, told this correspondent today. The Group is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). A national rhino policy, Talukdar said, could make a difference to rhino population not just in habitats such as Kaziranga National Park, but to smaller populations as the one in Gorumara National Park in West Bengal and Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, both of which now require scientific intervention to balance out their skewed gender ratios. “It is time to build a common bank of the experiences of all the parties involved in the conservation of rhinos across the country,” Talukdar said.

The idea is to be able to handle any population of rhinos, whether big or small, Talukdar said. “Since the Indian population of greater one-horned rhino is found in only three states of the country — Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, the need for a national strategy was not felt earlier as each state practises its own conservation initiative which have, more or less, improved the state of rhinos in their respective states,” he said.

“There is no denying that the efforts so far have resulted in the rhino population in the country touching almost 2,730. But look at it this way — Kaziranga managed well till its population grew to the current 2,000, which is about 65 per cent of the total rhino population in the country. However, now, the overpopulation in KNP given its growing space constraints, makes it easier for poachers to kill rhinos. But what happens if the population reaches 10,000? It is because of this that we need a nationally coordinated policy for rhinos,” he added.

A document prepared by CITES Secretariat calling for a national rhino policy for India is being placed for discussion at the 16th meeting of the Conference of CITES which will be held in March this year at Bangkok. The purpose of a national policy on rhinos would, broadly, according to the CITES document, involve pooling together knowledge regarding the biology, ecology, and threats to the species, and identify management strategies that will prioritize through consultations with stake holders, the need in terms of research and protection to ensure long-term species viability. The paper, however, points out capturing rhino poachers and traders, and collecting sufficient evidence to convict them, has proved to be “very challenging”.


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