Saving Rhinos: To prevent inbreeding, UP rhinos set to woo partners in Nepal - Hindustan Times

Saving Rhinos: To prevent inbreeding, UP rhinos set to woo partners in Nepal

By, Lucknow
Mar 20, 2024 08:30 AM IST

In first ever initiative Rhinos from DTR will be left to wander along Indo-Nepal border to mate with Rhinos from Nepal to change bloodline for lineage.

Uttar Pradesh’s forest department has undertaken a novel exercise to change the bloodline of future Rhinos in the state and prevent inbreeding among existing Rhinos by getting them to copulate with Rhinos from Nepal.

To prevent inbreeding, UP rhinos set to woo partners in Nepal (sourced)
To prevent inbreeding, UP rhinos set to woo partners in Nepal (sourced)

The most obvious side effects of inbreeding are poorer reproductive efficiency including higher mortality and lower growth rates and higher frequency of hereditary abnormalities.

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For this purpose, 10 select Rhinos from Dudhwa National Park (DNP) in Lakhimpur Kheri will be allowed along Indo-Nepal border pockets that have Rhinos coming from Nepal – a first exercise of its kind in U.P.

The ratio of the Rhinos to be set free to roam will be three male and seven female. The most healthy and eligible Rhino would be thus encouraged to mate with other male and female Rhinos.

“Due to threats from inbreeding this initiative has been planned. Hopefully we will be able to change bloodline that will bring natural safety for Rhinos in Uttar Pradesh,” said Sunil Chaudhary, additional principal chief conservator of forest (APCCF) U.P, who also heads project tiger in the state.

Once left along Nepal border the Rhinos will be put under observation for next two years. Radio collar will help track their movement and health. Officials said that close monitoring will be maintained for at least a year.

The Indian rhinoceros falls under vulnerable category of species in the Red List of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2018 Rhino population at DNP was 36 and in 2023 its estimated population was put at over 40.

“We have been planning for this since 2018 when we first brought out four Rhinos-- one male and three females-- away from the common enclosure in DNP. All four survived and with the birth of a calf in the new enclosure in June 2021 it was clear that bloodline of Rhinos in UP can be changed as Rhinos survived outside common enclosure,” said Chaudhary.

The significance of this initiative is because the greater one-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis Linnaeus, 1758) is one of the most threatened species of Indian megafauna and one of the five remaining species of rhinoceros.

The population of Rhinoceros is distributed in the flood plains of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, from the Hindu Kush in the west to the present Indo-Burmese border in the east. But, after their extirpation (the act of removing or destroying something completely) from the Indian terai in the 19th century, there was a need to reintroduce the population in the terai, officials said.

The first batch of rhinos was brought from Assam and released in Dudhwa on March 20, 1984, comprising of two males and three females. Since then, the number of this terrestrial mammal went up to 40, including 28 adults, but the blood line could not be changed.

How Rhinos were brought to Dudhwa

In August 1979, the Asian Rhino Specialist Group of the IUCN Survival Service Commission (now known as the Species Survival Commission) emphasised the need for continuous effort in protection and monitoring of the species, adding that “steps must be envisaged to establish additional viable population units in suitable areas, preferably in the rhinos former distribution range”. Decision to re-introduce rhinos to DNP was taken. The first batch of rhinos was captured in Assam to be released in Dudhwa in March 1984 comprising of two males and three females.

Further as the founder group needed to be strengthened, four more females from Nepal were added to the population of Dudhwa in April 1985. Since the time of reintroduction, the rhino population in Dudhwa has demonstrated a positive trend of growth.

Banke, for instance had been dominant male till 2014 and is believed to have fathered almost all the calves born in Dudhwa. After his death, Raghu and Nakul dominated. Since such inbreeding within an enclosed area may have led to issues, the need for a properly planned intervention was felt.

Rationale behind the initiative

The rhino population in the DNP has been growing steadily over the years and is probably facing the risk of inbreeding. To provide them with better conservation opportunities it was felt necessary to provide them with more habitats through translocation to potential protected areas and make the population genetically healthier by bringing in new individuals to the proposed new populations.

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