India’s state of Assam holds nearly three-quarters of the world’s greater one-horned rhinos. Sadly, the species has been driven from many of the areas where it used to be common. Its full recovery depends not only on protecting the species where it has managed to survive but also reintroducing them to places from which they’ve disappeared.

The Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV2020) program is drawing to a close with the translocation of two rhinos earlier in 2020 to Manas National Park in Assam, India. A final translocation of two additional rhinos was to take place during the spring, but has been postponed as India has restricted travel in response to mitigating the global COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Over the course of 15 years, there have been both successes and failures. Perhaps the biggest success is the perseverance and dedication to making improvements over the course of the program.

Wild-to-wild translocations were an essential part of IRV2020 – moving rhinos from densely populated parks like Kaziranga NP, to ones in need of more rhinos, like Manas NP.

The goal of IRV2020 was to increase the rhino population in Assam to 3,000 by establishing populations in new areas. Rhinos are now found in four Protected Areas in Assam: Pabitora Wildlife Reserve, Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, Kaziranga National Park, and Manas National Park.

IRV2020 was established in 2005 when IRF Program Director Dr. Tom Foose and Randy Rieches (San Diego Zoo Global) met with leaders from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), including Drs. Tariq Aziz, Christy Williams, and Chandra Prasad Gurung, the Bodo Territorial Council, and representatives of the Government of Assam to develop a long-term strategy for greater one-horned rhino management in India’s State of Assam.

An initial population of 18 was established in Manas. Challenges have included instability due to socio-political unrest in the vicinity of the park. Translocations were paused many times to ensure the safety of both the rhinos and people. 2012 saw the first loss of a rhino to poaching. Births in subsequent years were offset by poaching. The IRV2020 partners perform regular monitoring and security assessments and make improvements based on recommendations by both local and worldwide experts.

IRV2020 partners have witnessed continuous improvement in protection and enforcement over the course of the program. 2018 and 2019 saw significant decreases in poaching, the results of forestry, local and national government officials coordinating efforts to combat wildlife crime across Assam.

In 2017, the program marked a significant success – a third generation in Manas. The female offspring of Ganga, a female rhino that arrived in Manas in 2007, gave birth to her own calf, a male. With the latest translocation and several births, the Manas population has grown to 42 rhinos.

It takes a lot of planning and preparation and a large team to ensure a translocation goes as smoothly as possible. Great job and congratulations to all the translocation teams!

The work of IRV2020 has often been difficult and not all of the original goals have been met. There have been several starts and stops along the way. What has been most important is there was and remains a long term commitment dedicated to the not just the survival of this species which once numbered around 100 and now is more than 3,600, but that greater one-horned rhinos will thrive for many generations to come.

Many lessons have been learned in the 15 years of IRV2020, and many more will be learned. The IRV2020 partners will meet when possible again to discuss strategy and goals for the future. They will review each success and failure as well as each failure that led to a new success. After all, continuous improvement, perseverance, and long term commitment to increasing the population of greater one-horned rhinos is what brought diverse partners to come together to create and implement IRV2020.

IRF takes this opportunity to offer its sincere gratitude to Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, WWF-India, USFWS and other local agencies involved in IRV 2020 since the beginning of 2005 and IRF is committed to continued collaborations and partnership.

Those traits and collaboration will be at the core of what the next Indian Rhino Vision program will become. The photo below from the most recent translocation demonstrates those values. Security, veterinary, park officials, forestry officials, local and world partners are all working together to accomplish the mission of IRV2020.

Rhino Operations in India

Our annual operations include:

  • Providing logistical support and training for wildlife crime enforcement;
  • Tracking and monitoring rhinos on a continual basis to ensure their safety;
  • Continuing intensive monitoring of these populations;
  • Growing population by translocating animals to new, sustainable habitats;
  • Working with local communities to build support for rhino conservation through education and employment;
  • Habitat management, including invasive species removal.

Latest News from India

The sixth highest recorded flood in Assam’s Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary has begun to recede. The flood is an annual occurrence and ranges in intensity based on the monsoon rainfall received by the Brahmaputra floodplain. The floods typically last for 7 to 10 days; however, in 2020 flood levels remained for nearly 2 months causing issues for humans and rhinos alike.

Though flooding can cause fatalities for both humans and wildlife, it is a necessary and beneficial yearly event for the ecosystem, providing renewed nutrients to the soil to promote the better growth of grassland each year. The flood also recharges the natural wetlands throughout Kaziranga National Park (KNP).

Wildlife living in this floodplain ecosystem over hundreds of years have learned to adapt to the landscape and natural calamities such as the annual floods. When flood water increases in KNP, many wild animals instinctively move to higher ground in the park or to the adjoining Karbi-Anglong Hills to the south. This movement has become more complex with the construction of dams in the floodplain. Monsoon rain increases gradually, but the dams also release water, bringing sudden increases in water volume to KNP, giving less time for animals to anticipate and move to safety.

Forestry officials were able to provide relief to villagers via a boat donated by IRF. Officials are also providing flood relief to rhinos, leaving bundles of grass to replace food sources. Bibhab Talukdar, IRF’s Asian Rhino Program Coordinator, will visit the area and make an assessment of needs and threats including potential food shortages before winter comes to the area.

In Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, bundles of grass are harvested and transported by boat to provide supplemental food for rhinos that are stuck on temporary “islands” created by the flood waters.

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Clearing The Way For Rhinos In Manas National Park

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