Original publication for abc.net.au on 3 April 2022
The rare one-horned rhinos that roam Kaziranga National Park in north-eastern India have been increasing in numbers, thanks to stronger police efforts against poaching and artificial mud platforms which keep the animals safe from floods.
Those successful conservation efforts helped raise the park’s rhino population by 200 in the past four years, census figures released by park authorities this week showed.
Nearly 400 men using 50 domesticated elephants and drones scanned the park’s 500 square kilometres of territory in March and found the rhinos’ numbers had increased by more than 12 per cent — neutralising a severe threat to the animals from poaching gangs and monsoon flooding.
“From the last count in 2018, the number of the rare one-horned rhinoceros at our park has risen by 200. The number of this species at the Kaziranga now stands at 2,613,” park director Jatindra Sarma said.
“Poaching has declined in recent years with only one rhino being killed so far this year,” S Gogoi, a wildlife official, said.
Poachers kill rhinoceroses to take their horns, which are believed to have aphrodisiac properties and are in great demand in clandestine markets in South-East Asia.
Monsoon flooding has also killed animals from several other species in Kaziranga, which is spread across the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River in Assam state.
Authorities have built high mud platforms where rhinos take refuge, with guards providing them fodder to survive during the monsoon season.
A police task force created last year is armed with weapons as sophisticated as those carried by the poachers, said GP Singh, the officer in charge of the force.
Wildlife rangers and security guards carried outdated guns while protecting the park in the past.
Poaching in Kaziranga peaked in 2013 and 2014, with 27 rhinos killed each year. The toll came down to six in 2017, seven in 2018, three in 2019, two in 2020 and one in 2021.
Kaziranga, more than a century old and a UNESCO heritage site, is also a breeding ground for elephants, wild water buffalo and swamp deer, and conservation efforts have helped increase its tiger population.