Good News for a Change: Return of the Indian Rhino
We protect what we value.
What springs to mind when you think of India? Yoga or Hinduism? A rich tapestry of culture? The burgeoning middle class? For many of us it conjures imagery of the hustling and bustling of New Delhi and Mumbai, as one of the world's fastest growing economies strides confidently ahead, serving the local market of 1.3 billion consumers and a world ready to accept its goods and services. Many of the world's multinational corporations either have plans to operate in India or are there already. The gears of industry forge ahead.
With its two largest cities having a population well in excess of Australia's as a whole, one could be forgiven for assuming that business concerns must subsume all others – especially those of wildlife. Yet, India has a proud albeit complicated history of nurturing its natural resources. Through times of abundant poaching and habitat destruction, a streak of national pride, especially in its mega-fauna, has been harnessed to ensure the return of a most charismatic of characters: The Indian Rhino.
As summarised by the Canadian Museum of Nature vis-à-vis Rhinoceros unicornis:
The Indian rhinoceros is a success story in rhino conservation. Indian rhinoceroses numbered fewer than 200 animals in the early part of the 1900s. With strict protection from Indian and Nepalese governments, the number has climbed over 2 000. Poaching and habitat loss are still the main concerns, and continued diligence is required. Conservation objectives include: the maintenance of a wild population of at least 2 000 animals in at least six major sanctuaries in the current range of the species; translocation of animals to create new sanctuaries and populations; continued anti-poaching efforts; maintenance of a captive population capable of long-term viability to guard against any unforeseen extinction of the wild population; and reduction in the demand for rhinoceros products.
When it comes to conservation, of course, success is never a permanent state of affairs; ongoing vigilance is the price we sadly need to pay to share this planet with its most unique of occupants. That said, we can breathe somewhat easy knowing that the overwhelming majority of the species are found in India's Protected Areas (Wikipedia, 2018). Most recent counts from March this year in Kaziranga National Park – containing over 70 percent of the world's wild Indian Rhinos (World Atlas, 2017) further confirms that the population is viable, so long as habitat is preserved (Hindustan Times, 2018). (It is also possible the population was under-counted recently, due to poor visibility [Mongabay, 2018]).
Credit: WildFilms India
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, objective analysis using a proposed Megafauna Conservation Index (MCI) shows that Asia generally performs well in the conservation of large herbivore habitats (Global Ecology and Conservation, 2017). A national and comprehensive wildlife protection act was passed in 1972, and is heavily enforced. This, when coupled with renowned restrictions on timber exports, would appear to have India's wildlife on sound footing. But, some might say, "India should be directing all its resources toward economic development first!" Not the Rhinos; not on saving habitat. We couldn't put it better ourselves than Manoj Mishra, TRAFFIC Director in Suzuki & Dressel, 2002:
Oh, right! The middle class all getting a car is what will save nature! Well, that's NOT how it works, and that's not what Indians want. Even if we're poor, we have to save our animals. That's the basis of life, that's our identity, that's morality, that's our heritage, and we know it. And that's why these efforts find so much popular support.
It sounds to us the "West" could learn a great deal from this developing country.
Canadian Museum of Nature, "Indian Rhinoceros", Last updated 2016-11-26. (Web site consulted 2018-06-30 https://nature.ca/notebooks/english/indrhino.htm
Hindustan Times, 2018 (Dutt, A.), "Kaziranga National Park’s rhino population rises by 12 in 3 years", [online], Accessed: 30.06.18 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kaziranga-national-park-s-rhino-population-rises-by-12-in-3-years/story-bzGZvkeH4FtcRqevG985lO.html
Lindsey et al., 2017, "Relative efforts of countries to conserve world’s megafauna". [online] Global Ecology & Conservation. New York, NY. Accessed: 30.06.18 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989416300804
Mongabay, 2018. (Basu, M.) "Kaziranga’s rhino census finds the population is growing, but more slowly than expected", [online] Accessed: 30.06.18 https://news.mongabay.com/2018/04/kazirangas-rhino-census-finds-the-population-is-growing-but-more-slowly-than-expected/
Suzuiki, D. & Dressel, H. (2002), "Good News for a Change: Hope for a Troubled Planet". Stoddart Publishing Company, Toronto.
Wikipedia, 2018. "Indian rhinoceros" [online] Accessed: 30.06.18 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_rhinoceros#In_India
World Atlas, 2017 (Pariona, A.) "The Indian Rhinoceros Population: Important Facts And Figures" [online] Accessed: 30.06.18 https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/population-of-the-indian-rhinoceros-important-facts-and-figures.html