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Is Rhino and Elephant Conservation a Success?

Context

  • When the Kaziranga National Park celebrated its centennial in 2005, conservationists around the world dubbed it the “greatest conservation success story in history,” with much of the credit going to a rhino protection force that shoots alleged poachers on sight.
    • Since 2012-13, more than 55 armed men have been killed for illegal entry within the 1,300-square-kilometer tiger reserve.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment Disaster and disaster management

Mains Question

Project Tiger’s success may result in human-animal conflict if habitat conservation is not prioritised. Discuss. (250 words)


Kaziranga National Park

  • Information: The park is located on the outskirts of the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspots of Golaghat and Nagaon district of Assam, and it was designated as a protected area in 1905.
    • UNESCO designated the park as a World Heritage Site in 1985.
  • Flora: Due to the difference in altitude between the park’s eastern and western areas, this park has primarily four types of vegetation. Alluvial inundated grasslands, Alluvial savanna woodlands, Tropical moist mixed deciduous forests, and Tropical semi-evergreen forests are among them.
  • Fauna: The Kaziranga Park forest region is home to the world’s largest population of Indian Rhinoceros.
    • Other animals found in Kaziranga’s elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests include the Hoolock Gibbon, Tiger, Leopard, Indian Elephant, Sloth Bear, Wild water buffalo, swamp deer, and others.
    • In 2006, Kaziranga was designated as a Tiger Reserve due to the annual increase in tiger population.
    • A good number of migratory bird species from Central Asia can also be found here.

Rhino protection

  • Rhinoceros population: When Kaziranga became a protected area in 1905, there were about a dozen one-horned rhinos. According to the State of Rhino Report 2022, the poor-sighted herbivore population in Kaziranga is estimated to be 2,613 (more than 65% of its total population of 4,014 in 11 habitats across India and Nepal).The focus on rhino has benefited other animals in its domains.
  • For example, the number of tigers in Assam has increased at a faster rate than elsewhere in India; according to a 2010 count, Kaziranga has the highest density of tigers in the world — 32.64 per 100 square kilometres.
  • Poaching remains a major threat to rhinos as a result of the illegal wildlife trade in neighbouring Myanmar and throughout Southeast Asia.
    • In the last decade, alien invasive plant species have taken over key grassland habitats in rhino-bearing areas, posing a greater threat to the animal in India and Nepal.
    • Anti-poaching safeguards
      • The strengthening of anti-poaching mechanisms in India and Nepal with more manpower, capacity-building of frontline staff, and equipping forest guards with better fighting gear have all contributed to rhino conservation.
      • Local people’s attachment to rhinos has also played a role in the sharp drop in the number of rhinos killed, from 54 in 2013 and 2014 to one each in 2021 and 2022.

Elephant protection

  • Elephant Status in India
    • India is home to nearly 60% of Asian elephants, with the species’ last count in 2017 totaling 29,964.
    • The elephant population is not distributed evenly across the country.
  • Nearly 44% of India’s elephant population lives in the south Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.
    • Although the number of elephants in India has increased in recent years, the species is classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Schedule I of The Wildlife Protection Act.
  • Elephants are under threat.
    • The largest land mammal is constantly threatened by poaching and conflict with humans.
    • While incidents of ivory poaching have decreased, human-elephant conflict has increased.
  • Every year, approximately 500 humans and 100 elephants are killed in such clashes across the country.
  • Changes in land use, particularly the conversion of previously forested areas to agriculture, have exacerbated the conflict.
    • Elephant habitat fragmentation, as well as the construction of linear (railways and roads) and power infrastructure, has resulted in many elephant deaths.
  • Actions taken
    • In 1992, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change launched Project Elephant to ensure elephants’ long-term survival in their natural habitats.
    • India currently has 32 elephant reserves, with the Agasthyamalai Elephant Reserve being added in 2022.
  • Elephant corridors are critical for conservation because they allow elephants to move between secure habitats.
  • To date, approximately 101 elephant corridors have been identified in the country that must be protected for elephant conservation.

February 2023
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