Rhino demoted

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Sunday 30 November 2008

Kaziranga has 70 per cent of a (Credit: ANIL AGARWAL) From endangered to vulnerable

THE International Union for Conservation of Nature or iucn has lowered the threat level of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros from endangered to vulnerable. This has not gone down well with conservationists in India who contend rhinos are extremely threatened from poaching and epidemics. Seventy per cent of rhino population is concentrated in just one national park in India, Kaziranga National Park.

The shift has also taken Indian members of iucn's Asian Rhino Specialist Group by surprise.

The international conservation body said the rhino population showed a steady increase due to strict protection, especially in India. Though some populations were decreasing in Nepal and parts of northeast India, current estimates showed that the global population of one-horned rhino was 2,575, of which estimated 2,200 were in India.

Anwaruddin Choudhury of Rhino Foundation, an ngo in Assam, said, "Though the population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 2,500, it is not enough to take rhinoceros from the endangered bracket. The majority of them (more than 1,800) are confined to Kaziranga National Park." iucn accepted that with 70 per cent of rhino population in Kaziranga, a catastrophic event could have devastating impact on the species.

Poaching and habitat fragmentation also threaten the rhinoceros population. Kaziranga witnessed a drastic rise in poaching with more than 25 animals falling prey to poachers since early 2007. The situation is more severe in Nepal.

Choudhury, also a member of iucn Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said, "We submitted reports on rhino distribution, their population and various threats that the species face but the outcome of the final evaluation was not discussed with us."

Conservationists have reasons to be worried because conservation measures depend on iucn threat classification of the species. "Downgrading the treaty level may affect availability of funds and conservation efforts. iucn could have waited," Choudhury said.

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