Old age, tiger attacks take toll on Kaziranga rhinos
Samudra Gupta Kashyap Posted: Sep 26, 2008 at 0051 hrs IST
Gurgaon, September 25 The Kaziranga National Park, the last home of the highly endangered one-horned rhinoceros, is facing a peculiar phenomenon: while a considerably large number of rhinos are dying due to old age, tigers are also contributing their own way by killing at least 20 rhino calves every year.
This year, for instance, as many as 53 rhinos have already died due to old age, while exactly 20 calves have fallen prey to tigers. Over and above these two reasons of Kaziranga losing so many rhinos a year, poachers too have contributed their might, often decamping with its horn after killing a rhino.
“But that does not mean Kaziranga’s rhino population is dwindling,” pointed out Mohan Chandra Malakar, chief wildlife warden and principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Assam. “The number of calves born every year is much more than the death figures, and I am sure the national park as on date has no less than 2,000 rhinos,” he said.
There is, however, no study or reliable data to know exactly how many rhino calves are added to the Kaziranga family every year. “But it is a common sight that there is a calf with almost every full-grown female rhino in the Park,” said Malakar. While Kaziranga had 1,552 during the 1999 census, the figure rose to 1,855 in the 2006 census, with Malakar saying the figure would not have risen if the casualty rate were higher than the birth rate. Kaziranga, while celebrating its 100 years of rhino conservation in 2005 was touted as the world’s greatest conservation story of the century.
“Old age is definitely a major reason for rhino deaths in Kaziranga,” said Prashanta Boro, a vet who heads the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre near the national park. While rhinos are believed to have a life expectancy of anywhere between 70 and 80 years, there was a tendency among the younger animals to push out the ageing ones from their nature-defined territory, he added.
“Rhino behaviour will surely make very interesting study. There is an unexplained tendency among the younger adults to push out the ageing members of their species. This also becomes evident from the fact that most of the rhinos that stray away from Kaziranga are generally older, ageing ones,” Boro said.
Boro also points at the downsliding physical capability of the ageing rhino that leads it to a slow death. “The rhino’s teeth get worn out as it grows older, making chewing a difficult task. This leads to digestive disorders, which in turn flares up the natural parasite growth in its anatomy,” Boro said. And then, the natural problem of normal reflexes slowing down makes an ageing rhino more vulnerable to drowning during the high flood season.
But what is more interesting is the number of rhino calves falling prey to tigers. Kaziranga has, in the last four years, lost on average 20 rhino calves to tigers. “Rhino calves have a tendency to move away from their mothers, and the tiger takes full advantage of the situation,” points out Dibyadhar Gogoi, divisional forest officer at Kaziranga…