February 20, 2009

Rhino population in West Bengal forest goes up

Kolkata: The rhino population in a national park at the Himalayan foothills has gone up. Elated officials of the West Bengal forest department are now getting ready to carry out a census in another reserve forest.

During a census last November in the Gorumara National Park, located in the Himalayan foothills area of West Bengal called the Dooars, the officials found the number of the one-horned giants had increased to 35 from 27, the state's Forest Minister Ananta Roy told mediapersons. Now the officials are getting ready to carry out a rhino census in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, also in the Dooars. The census will start later this month.

"We'll begin the rhino census in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in the last week of February. The census will also collect specific information about the male-female ratio," Roy said. According to forest department officials, the census will also point out all information about each rhinoceros that will be required to identify it in case of emergency.

"The number of rhinos in Gorumara rose to 35 from 27 recorded in 2006," the minister said. The officials say the main reason for the increase in rhino population in Gorumara is that forest guards as well as local residents are "extremely vigilant" against poachers.

Most of the one-horned rhinos, found only in India, are in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, where about 1,700 are estimated to be grazing in the vast marshy grasslands on the banks of the Brahmaputra river.

"We're trying to emphasise on increasing rhino habitat in both the Jaldapara and Gorumara forests. We're working in tandem with the state forest department towards achieving this goal. But it's a great sign the rhino population there is increasing through a natural process," said Animesh Bose of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF) - a Siliguri-based wildlife welfare organisation.

Bose agreed: "The forest management has been very good in protecting the lives and livelihood for this animal (rhino). We have also given a few suggestions to the state forest department to click photographs of all the rhinos in the forest and give them specific identification marks on the basis of their physical differences."

Rhinos face the danger of poaching due to the mistaken belief that their horns yield a "medicine" that acts as an aphrodisiac. In the illegal international market, a kilogram of rhino horn fetched $60,000 in 1994.

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