In the 1990s, the greater one-horned rhino was on the verge of local extinction in India’s Manas Landscape. Today, an estimated total of 54 rhinos roam and thrive in the area and the population is steadily growing.
Nearly 50% of this population is thanks to the work of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). A leading factor in the incredible success of this project is the close partnership between IFAW and WTI—a partnership that’s been going strong for 20 years, a milestone we celebrated in 2021.
Manas National Park is home to diverse wildlife, including tigers, Asian elephants, one-horned rhinos, golden langurs, swamp deer and clouded leopards. Civil unrest in the 1980s and early 1990s left the landscape vulnerable to poaching, deforestation and fragmentation. Wildlife populations were severely impacted and nearly all of the park’s existing rhino population was wiped out.
As the region stabilised, IFAW began working with WTI and the Assam Forest Department to repopulate the park and re-establish it as one of the most exceptional wildlife parks in the world through our Greater Manas Recovery Project.
Re-establishing rhinos is a priority as they act as a keystone species in the landscape and their recovery will benefit the grassland ecosystem and maintain ecological balance. However, rebuilding the population is especially challenging because rhinos are very territorial and adults moving from one habitat to another often fail to thrive. IFAW and our partners looked for a new approach.
The Kaziranga National Park, in the same northeast Indian state of Assam, is home to the world’s largest population of greater one-horned rhinos. Rhino calves sometimes get separated from their mothers in this area, often during biannual flooding that forces animals to seek higher ground. IFAW and WTI decided to rehabilitate orphaned rhino calves from Kaziranga and then release them into Manas when they are two or three years old, an age at which they are more able establish their own territory.
In 2002, IFAW, WTI and the Assam Forest Department established the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near Kaziranga National Park. It’s the only facility in India that rescues, hand-raises and rehabilitates animals such as one-horned rhinos and Asian elephants. Since it was established the CWRC has rescued more than 5,500 animals and released 3,500 back into the wild.
On average, CWRC rescues around three rhino calves each flood year (one year, the team rescued four rhino calves in one day). Orphaned calves are rehabilitated and raised until they can be moved to a soft-release facility in Manas before returning to the wild.
The partnership between IFAW and WTI has made huge progress in ensuring that rhinos and other wildlife have a safe and secure habitat. Together we were instrumental in getting the Manas National Park expanded by 350 square kilometres in 2016. In 2021 together we helped add another 422 square kilometres of protected land to the Greater Manas Landscape with the designation of Raimona National Park.
“With teamwork, consistency and incredible supporters, positive change is within our reach. The challenges we face in our world today are urgent, complicated and, often, resistant to change. But the story of this project and the success of our long-term partnership with WTI proves that together we can make a difference for animals and people in our world,” said Meredith Whitney, an Animal Rescue Program Manager at IFAW.
Melanie Mahoney / IFAW
Banner Image: In July 2015, a rehabilitated and released rhino named Ganga—who was rescued and rehabilitated at the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) in Assam, India—gave birth to a healthy male calf in the wild. She is the first released rhino in Manas to successfully reproduce and has given birth to three calves since her release. / Photo: Bhaskar Choudhury / © IFAW/WTI