By Basanta Parajuli, Chitwan, Feb. 24: With water sources increasingly drying up and grassland degrading, rhinoceros inhabiting the eastern part of Chitwan national park (CNP) are migrating towards the west in search of a better habitat.
Experts worry that these desperate westward movements have further endangered their survival.
“Congregation of several rhinos usually results in fierce combat over space and food. Right now there is a mass exodus and a significant band of rhinos are moving together, which has further increased deaths and injuries,” explained Chief Conservation Officer at CNP Ana Nath Baral.
According to the Park, 92 rhinos died in the park and its surrounding areas last year alone. Of these, 88 died of natural causes while the remaining four were killed by poachers. Among the recorded casualties, most rhinos have died over time either as a result of infighting, old age, drowning or being washed away by the river current, according to park officials. “Mostly rhino deaths are recorded in the western region,” added Baral.
The park authority has demarcated the conservation area into eastern and western regions with Kasara, the headquarters of the park, as a mid-point.
Hari Bhadra Acharya, an ecologist at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, said that the Department of National Parks is aware of the recent migration of rhinos from east to west.
"We are analysing the fact that the number of rhinos in the western region has to be counted first to record and identify the number of rhinos present there," he said.
Preparations are underway to count rhinos in the park beginning from the first week of April. He said that along with the number of rhinos, the transit capacity of the protected area and the condition of the habitat will also be taken into account during the census and the condition of the rhinos will be identified on the same basis.
According to Baral, rhinos have migrated to the western region due to lack of water in the eastern part of the park, along with the destruction of lakes, ponds and grasslands. Sand and concrete carried by the Rapti River are deposited in the grassland areas, wiping out the grazing area.
Apart from this, there is enough water in the western part of the park, across which both Narayani and Rapti Rivers flow, luring the rhinos.
Ecologist Acharya sees the need to relocate internal rhinos by increasing the availability of grassland and water facilities in the eastern region if necessary.
According to the latest census, there are 645 rhinos in the country, out of which CNP alone houses 605.
According to the latest rhino census in Chitwan National Park, four rhinos have been gifted to the Chinese government from there, 12 rhinos have been transferred to Shukla Phanta and Bardiya National Parks. On August 2016, a flash flood had swept away over a dozen rhinos to India, out of which 10 have been rescued and brought to the park, while the remaining are estimated to be roaming around in the forest on the other side of the border.
Ram Prit Yadav, a tiger-rhino expert at the World Wildlife Fund, said, "It is important to improve habitat and develop grasslands in the eastern region and put a stopper on mass exodus."