Friday, August 11, 2006

New tiger reserve declared in India

Kaziranga (Assam), Aug 10 (IANS) -- The famed Kaziranga National Park in Assam, home to the endangered one-horned rhino, has added another feather to its cap with New Delhi declaring the sanctuary a tiger reserve under the Project Tiger scheme.

"This is yet another milestone for the state and Kaziranga to have this sanctuary listed as a tiger reserve," Assam's chief wildlife warden M.C. Malakar told IANS.

From five rhinos a century ago, the 430 sq km Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage Site, today boasts of nearly 70 percent of the world's estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts.

As per an animal census carried out at the park earlier this year, Kaziranga is home to about 1,855 one-horned rhinos compared to 1,552 found during the count in 1999."

Now we expect more focus on the park from wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world with Kaziranga being declared a tiger reserve," a park ranger said. "

It is unique to have so many endangered species cohabiting in one sanctuary - from rhinos to tigers, elephants, and a wide variety of rare birds."

A formal notification declaring Kaziranga as a tiger reserve was given over the weekend.

There are two tiger reserves in Assam - the Manas National Park and the Nameri National Park. "

According to latest census figures, Kaziranga has about 86 tigers, Manas has 65 and Nameri has 26," another wildlife official said.

The listing of Kaziranga as a tiger reserve under the Project Tiger would enable the sanctuary to get more funds and incentives for the park rangers. "The field staff would now be entitled for a special allowance since Kaziranga has come under Project Tiger, besides getting additional funding which is good for the upkeep of the park," Malakar said.

Kaziranga celebrated its centenary in style last year with experts describing the comeback of the rhinos from the throes of extinction as one of the world's biggest conservation success stories."

Nobody had ever imagined some five or eight years back that the rhinos would survive and that we would be facing a problem of giving the animals enough living space for survival rather than being worried about their numbers," a park official said.

Park rangers, until very recently, were at their wits end to protect these 5,000-pounders from being wiped out of this riverine game park with the animals being hunted down by organised poacher gangs for profit."

The threat from poachers still exists although incidents of poaching have come down drastically," the official said.In the past five years, about 18 rhinos were killed as compared to at least 50 slaughtered annually in the early 1990s by poachers."

A highly effective protection mechanism, better intelligence network, and a proactive role played by local villagers residing along the park, have helped us check poaching in recent years," Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said.

Organised poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities as well as in medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of South Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers and tourist souvenirs.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering. Poachers pay villagers Rs.50,000 for each horn. According to experts, each horn sells for up to Rs.1.5 million per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in the international market.

--By Syed Zarir Hussain

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