The recently concluded rhino estimation at the Kaziranga National Park does not justify the actual rhino population in the Park. According to the technical committee the total count method needs further improvement and the current figure of 2413 rhinos does not reflect the actual rhino population.
The technical committee was constituted for evaluation of the data sheets of rhino estimation that was held from March 25 to 28.
The technical committee suggested adoption of other ecological population estimation methods.
Altogether 38 forest officials, various NGOs and 29 invited observers were involved in the estimation of rhinos at the KNP. About 200 forest staff and 40 elephants were engaged in the entire process that spread over three days.
It was found that the large tract of tall grass dominated by Ekora (Sachharum Ravane), Kohua (Sachharum Spontaneum), Khagori (Phragmites karka) and Nol (Arundo domax) were by and large not burnt completely during annual controlled burning regime. The Park authorities attributed this to high moisture content as a result of intermittent rainfall.
The enumerators faced tremendous problem as they could not cover such large chunk of habitat. The enumerators have opined that figures shall depict gross undercount. Approximately 20% to 25% of area was burnt and hence there was every possibility of under counting.
The technical committee further observed that some of the elephants and mahouts were hired from private parties outside the park, who were not familiar with the terrain. In fact it was also recorded that such elephants could not cover many areas and thus many areas remained uncounted.
Another reason pointed out by the technical committee was the engagement of heavy machinery in ongoing highland construction.
“There was skewed distribution of Rhino Population from their natural habitat. Therefore, some compartments reported lower counts than expected,” the technical committee observed.
Of the 2413 rhinos estimated this year 642 are adult male rhinos, 793 adult female rhinos. There are 206 adult rhinos whose sex could not be determined, 116 are young adult male rhinos, 149 are young female rhinos, 122 young adult rhinos sex also could not be determined. Altogether 155 rhino calves were found below one year old and 230 rhino calves above one year. Sex Ratio is 1 :: 1.2 which is quite encouraging.
The committee has also suggested that Park Authority should constitute a Committee for suggesting appropriate time for conducting such Population Estimation, when controlled burning is complete.
Though the current figure of rhino population has generated controversy in the state, Dr Rathin Barman, in-charge of Wildlife Trust of India’s Rhino Reintroduction Project, said Kaziranga is a great success story of conservation. “It is done with a very transparent manner. This year this is undercount as grasses were still tall. The controversy is baseless. ……..Kaziranga is a great success story in conservation, no doubt on that,” he tweeted.