For the first time advanced genetic tools are being used to take the census of Greater One-horned rhinoceros in the Gorumara National Park of West Bengal.
As part of a project undertaken by Aaranyak, a society for biodiversity conservation in north-east India recognised by the government of India, 43 rhinos have been identified through genetic analysis of dung samples, collected from the park in April 2011.
An Aaranyak official told rediff.com that the results are significant given that the number of rhinos counted by the forest department using the conventional methods was 42.
Moreover, this study confirms a sex ratio 4:1 (male: female), similar to what has been found earlier.
This skewed sex ratio, with more number of males, has been a matter of concern for authorities.
A report on the work has already been submitted to the state forest department by Aaranyak, which recommended undertaking further genetic study on rhinos in the park as well as the Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary to understand different aspects of rhino population biology.
Udayan Borthakur, head of the Wildlife Genetics Programme, Aaranyak, said: "This is an important methodological development in the field of rhino research, which may greatly contribute towards scientific management of rhino population in India. The genetic diversity in the Gorumara rhino population is low, which necessitates management interventions to ensure long term survival."
Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak and chairperson of IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group, states that such technological development bears great significance in scientific monitoring and conservation of rhinos in future.
He mentions that in practice it is challenging to distinguish male and female rhinos in tall grassland habitats and that an additional tool like dung DNA could assist in distinguishing male and female species, which is important for proper management of the rhino population.