September 20, 2008

Endangered Rhinos Face Dwindling Habitat

Experts attending a meeting of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group in Nepal said Thursday that the South Asian endangered Great One-horned Rhinoceros is being forced out of its natural habitat into the hands of illegal poachers as the massive animals seek to find food.

Their feeding grounds are being invaded by "exotic species" of weeds and wild plants, the experts said, and the rhino could soon see its natural sources of food depleted.

"Grassland is being invaded by weeds and other unwanted plants that are not suitable for rhinos," Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, co-chairman of the group, told the Reuters.

"We have to concentrate on how best to control the weeds and for this we have to intensify research," he said from the Chitwan National Park, home to 408 rhinos.

"The weeds and wild plants are an exotic species and how it came we don't know. It is spreading fast in the habitat and we are looking into the reasons now," said Shyam Bajimaya, an expert with Nepal's national parks.

Nepal's Chitwan National Park, 50 miles southwest of Kathmandu, is the second-largest habitat for the rhinos after the Assam Kaziranga National Park, which is home to 1,855 animals.

The number of Great One-horned Rhinoceros' has been on the rise  in the northeastern Indian state of Assam and in southwestern Nepal, due primarily to a   reduction in poaching, Talukdar said.

Poaching, the illegal killing of the rhinos for their horns and other body parts, is the main threat to the rhino's survival.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia