At a time when so many species are slipping towards extinction, it’s good to hear a story with a happy ending. This one involves the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the mighty beast that roams the grasslands of eastern India.
The story in numbers
The Indian rhinoceros has made an amazing comeback. Long, long ago, its habitat extended from Pakistan to northern India and Burma and included Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. By 1900 however, the loss of habitat and poaching (killing of the animal) had reduced the population to just 100-200. Although its range in India is just a fraction of what it was-includes Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh in India and a part of Nepal-the population of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros stands at over 2700 now.
A bulk of that population lives in the grasslands of Kaziranga National Park in Assam and smaller numbers live in other parks such as the Manas National Park also in Assam and Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh. In fact in Kaziranga, rhino populations may be crossing the number that can actually be supported by the park-this is seen in the fact that the rhino, normally a solitary animal, comes together in groups in Kaziranga.
Not out of danger
Although numbers seem to be increasing, this large herbivore (grass eating animal) is not out of danger. As recently as 2013, 41 rhinos were killed by poachers who hunt it for the horn which is used in Chinese traditional medicine. Horns sell for huge amounts of money, making the rhino a target for poachers.
Why is the rhino important?
It is a mega-herbivore (along with the elephant and hippo) that can shape the habitat it dwells in. By trampling grasslands and selectively eating certain grasses, the rhino shapes the grassland. It also helps in seed dispersal through the seeds that pass out in its poop!
States like Assam are important for the survival of the rhino. The state hopes to increase population of the animal to around 3000 in the next three years and spread the animal over several national parks. Such plans are important if the rhino is to continue its forward march.