The Asian rhinos are notable for its single horn as compared to the two-horned rhinos of Africa. The greater one-horned rhinos found in India are thus aptly named the Indian Rhino.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the population of rhinos, mainly found in the states of Assam, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, has seen an increase between the years 2012 and 2015. In three years, the number of rhinos in Assam has gone up from 2505 to 2624, 30 to 34 in Uttar Pradesh and 229 to 255 in West Bengal. However, poaching of rhinos has been a major issue in India which needs to be addressed with implementation of rules and regulations at the helm.
According to the Ministry, the total number of rhinos in India has increased from 2764 in 2012 to 2913 in 2015. However, the number of rhinos poached also continue to rise. In Kaziranga National Park alone, 82 rhinos have died due to poaching from 2012-2015 (Kaziranga National Park Report). As per The Hindu, more than five incidents of rhino poaching have been reported during 2014-2015.
In 2005, the Assam Forest Department, in partnership with the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and World Wide Fund (WWF) India, launched the ‘Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020).’ The Vision aims at increasing the number total rhino population in Assam to 3000 by the year 2020 and this endeavour is also supported by Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Assam, US Fish & Wildlife Service along with other organisations. The goal is to reduce risks to India’s rhino population by ensuring that the animals are spread throughout multiple parks with favourable habitat to encourage population growth.
The Indian Government at the Centre has also been taking measures for the protection and conservation of rhinos. Under the provisions of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, the Government has taken the following measures:
- Establishing protected areas, viz., national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves covering important wildlife habitats have been created all over the country. Most of the rhino habitats are part of tiger reserves such as Kaziranga, Manas, Dudhwa and Jaldapara Tiger Reserve.
- The Act provides legal protection to wild animals including rhinos against hunting and commercial exploitation and also provides for stringent punishment for the offenders and the forfeiture of any equipment, vehicle or weapon that is used for committing wildlife offence(s).
- The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been empowered under the Act to apprehend and prosecute wildlife offenders.
Apart from the 1972 Act, the Ministry has also taken up other measures to protect the endangered species:
- A specific component ‘recovery programmes for saving critically endangered species and habitats’ is provided under the centrally sponsored scheme of Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats for focused conservation action on selected critically endangered species. Rhino is one of the identified species under this programme.
- Financial and technical assistance is provided to the state/union territories under centrally sponsored schemes for providing better protection to wildlife and improvement of its habitat.
- The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been set up to ensure coordination among various officers and states in connection with the enforcement of law for control of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and its products.
—Inputs from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, May 2016.