Conservationists Warn India Rhinos Running Out of Space
LAOWKHOWA, India -- With their numbers on the rise, the endangered great one-horn rhinoceroses in India's main national rhino park are running out of space as authorities delay sending them to other reserves, conservationists say.
"Rhinos are facing a space crunch," Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, co-chairman of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group, told Reuters.
"Their area of occupancy continues to grow smaller and there is the possibility of their stepping out of the protected area and getting killed."
The endangered animals are found mostly in eastern India and neighbouring Nepal. The largest group lives amidst the muddy ponds and tall elephant grass of Assam's Kaziranga National Park, home to more than 1,800 rhinos.
But even as the number of rhinos there has increased, the parkland available to them has shrunk by about 50 square km (some 20 square miles) in less than a decade, to 430 square km. Land has been eroded and wetlands have silted over.
The government said in 2005 it would move some of Kaziranga's rhinos to repopulate seven other existing conservation parks in the state in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and International Rhino Foundation.
But that project has been delayed. Most of the other parks lost their resident rhinos to poachers and encroachers. The latter razed the rhinos' jungle habitat to make way for farmland.
"The authorities need a reality check fast before it is too late to save the rhinos," Talukdar said.
Security in Kaziranga is weak, with seven animals killed by poachers so far in 2007.
"We are trying our best to restore the rhinos' habitats in Assam but it will take some time," said Rockybul Hussain, Assam's environment minister, but he would not say exactly how much time.